If you are anything like me then silence can be uncomfortable. It’s like an awkward first date. One moment of silence can feel like forever. When we feel uncomfortable with silence it can be hard to bite your tongue and as a result we may be killing the conversation. Sometimes I wish I could zip my mouth shut like Neo in the matrix and there are probably a few too many times my wife wishes I would stay quiet longer too.
In this article, we are going to break down why staying silent can be so important yet so difficult and then five practical strategies you can use to stay silent a little bit longer.
Why is silence critical?
Silence is golden because it enables the other person to think. It demonstrates confidence. It gives the conversation a little oxygen. It enables the other person to process complex information. Most importantly it gives the other person a chance to talk. Even though silence can be wonderful it is still incredibly difficult to stay silent because it feels like a game of chicken. You literally feel so awkward and awkwardness is a terrible feeling for everyone except Michael Scott from the office. We have the king of pop and we have Michael, the king of awkward.
Remember, there are many upsides to staying silent but it’s not easy. Therefore, let’s give you five practical strategies to stay silent for a little longer so you can drive better dialogue.
#1 - Use a stopwatch in virtual calls.
When leading workshops I will turn on the stopwatch and when I ask the audience a question. I will give it 30 seconds before speaking. Without the watch I’d give it 1-2 seconds because the silence can be painful. As my stopwatch is running I remember people are shy, people are processing, people are thinking and it gives me the courage to stay silent, and more importantly, it gives people the space to speak up.
#2 - Count 2-3 seconds in your head.
As soon as you feel the urge to say something and there is a break in the conversation count 1, 2, 3 in your head. Those 2-3 seconds are often the difference between the other person sharing more and us killing the conversation and making it about ourselves.
#3 - Tell the other person or group you are going to be silent.
Ask a question such as I’d love to hear your thoughts on alternative assets and then say I am going to stay silent because I am curious about your perspective. By telling them we are going to be quiet it gives us permission to be silent which reduces the discomfort and empowers you to stay quiet for longer.
#4 - Make a decision to stay silent until they answer.
This is the secret to winning a game of chicken, make a decision and commit. Please don’t do this on the road but in conversation when done the right way, it can unlock amazing dialogue because it shows you are patient and really want to hear the other person out. Try saying “what else” and then staying quiet. When said the right way “what else” feels like an invitation that shows you want to keep listening.
#5 - Practice, practice, practice. It’s like stretching.
The first time you stretch you aren’t very limber but the more you practice the better you get. Use me as an example, I’ve been stretching for 6 months and I can now touch my knees, I know impressive. Yes, I’m being a little sarcastic. At first staying silent for 3 seconds will seem like an eternity but with practice, it becomes easier and easier.
#6 - Bonus tip.
Remember how annoying it is when people interrupt, talk over you, or don’t let you finish. That is what we can do when we can’t fight the urge to stay silent. Remember do you really want to be that person? We all want to avoid that person. Not wanting to be that person inspires me to stay quiet a little bit longer.
I encourage you to consciously practice these strategies because you will find it invites amazing dialogue especially if you show sincere interest in the other person. This quote sums it up best - Don’t speak unless you can improve upon silence.