Ever notice how the most powerful person in a meeting often seems the most comfortable with silence? Well, I’ve got news for you: comfort with silence is as much a contributor to that power as it is a reflection of it. I am more and more convinced that “change” comes in moments of peace, during pauses—when we get to integrate ideas, concepts, practices, etc.—and not in the heat of the moment when ideas are being firehosed at us.
I took a long pause this summer…three weeks away from helping clients with messaging, strategy, physical presence, and the like, to focus on why I do all of this. While my pause wasn’t always quiet (my band played a very loud gig on the 4th of July at Stinson Beach, CA, and at one point we had 18 family members for dinner at our house in Maine!), it was an important “caesura” from the pressures of helping business people connect “on purpose.” It was important because without time to connect with my family, my sons, my wife, and with myself, it would be hypocritical to challenge others to connect. And, I believe connection is why we are here.
Silences, pauses, time for reflection—these are doorways to connection with others and ourselves. Meaning, learning, relationships. Value happens in the gaps more than in the words and the activities. But, just like I had to choose to take three weeks off, we have to choose to create silences, or gaps, for the people with whom we work to connect.
So, what does all of this have to do with connecting “on purpose”? You have choices to make when you interact with people. How you use your body and voice and the ideas you share are all choices you can make that will have a profound impact on your ability to both connect and to achieve your “purpose” (get it? connecting on purpose…). One of the most powerful choices of all is the “purposeful” use of silence.
Pausing gives you time to collect your thoughts. When you pause regularly, your ideas seem better organized and more succinct. This is especially important for tough “Q&A” situations. It also gives others time to digest your ideas. Yes, we can hear more quickly than we can talk, but hearing, understanding, and impact are different phenomena. Silence creates impact. In fact, a bit of silence before any idea makes it seem more important because it sounds as if you have given the idea some thought. That’s one reason why a quickly-read speech will never have the impact of someone really talking with passion.
There are also physiological reasons for pausing. Every time you pause, you give your body the chance to exhale and release tension, so you feel more relaxed. When you inhale again, it fuels you with a well-projected voice. The faster you go, the less you breathe. The less you breathe, the faster you go…and the harder it is for your audience to track you. A communicator who is comfortable with silence looks and sounds confident and in control. It’s as if the willingness to pause, breathe, and think says to others, “I’m OK. I’m not in a hurry, and what I’m saying is so important that I want you to think about it.”
Try it. Next time you have important ideas to share—at work, at home, on the golf course—bracket those ideas with silence. Share a thought…and pause. The people you are sharing with will get to digest and integrate each idea, and you and your ideas will begin to connect with them. In the meantime, as your ideas begin to take on more importance, you’ll be breathing and relaxing more, which magically eliminates use of “verbal fillers” (umm, ahh, like, so, etc.). You’ll seem better-organized, more confident, and more in control.
Let me know how it works.