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How Comfortable are you With Silence?

June 7, 2019

Sandra McDowell, Faculty, Cusource Education

When you ask others a question and they do not respond immediately, how quickly do you fill the space with your words? What would happen if you waited for them to respond? If you can stop yourself from filling the space after you ask a question, powerful thinking and clarity will ensue. How much silence can you cope with before you need to rescue someone from their silence? Who is more uncomfortable, you or them? These are important questions to reflect upon.

When silence happens, instead of rescuing someone with an easier question or your own thoughts, consider what is going through their mind and what has caused the silence. Are they reflecting? Considering options? Processing? Have they had an aha moment?

Learning to resist the urge to ‘solve’ problems or ‘rescue’ others from awkwardness takes practice, but when you give others the time they need to respond, their respect and trust for your relationship increases, and their solution-based thinking is heightened.

To break the silence would interrupt others’ thinking. Resist the temptation to rephrase the question or ask another question, but instead allow the person to process, think, and respond. It’s not easy at first, but it gets easier with practice. Try it, you’ll witness its power.

People often ask if there is a point where you should say something. In most cases there is not, but it depends. You shouldn’t break silence to rescue someone, solve his or her problem, or make things less awkward. If you must say something, phrases that could prompt further comment include “tell me more,” or “what, if anything, is becoming clearer for you?” Eventually, if the person does not have a response to your question, or is uncomfortable responding, they will let you know.

Welcome silence into your conversations. When you hear it, you’ll know powerful thinking is taking place, and more clarity is on the horizon.

This material is drawn from the online leadership programs: eLEAD and eCOACH. These 8-week cohort-based learning programs are designed for established and emerging leaders. The sessions are being offered this fall from October 7 - Dec 1, 2019 and October 14 - December 8, 2019 respectively. Join our informational webinar on Aug 14 at 12 p.m. ET to learn more. Register for the webinar.