As a careers adviser, I spent a lot of time talking. From going through CVs, signposting to resources and conducting mock interviews, most of it was me. I found however that the most powerful conversations were those where there were long periods of silence. As a coach, I learned more about the power of silence.
Within a coaching practice, allowing the silence between myself and the person I am listening to gives them time to think. I have come to see it as a gift to the other person, giving them my undivided attention and the belief that they are the expert in their own life.
Whilst I think that silence can be really powerful, it can also feel awkward. For the first few times I tried, I wanted to fill the space. However over time, I found that silence isn’t just powerful in coaching, the power of silence is an effective strategy for leadership too.
Using silence as a leadership strategy
Silence can be helpful as a method for speaking up for yourself - yes, I appreciate how that sounds! Being silent allows us to channel our energies. It gives us the clarity we need to face challenges and uncertainty calmly. As we practice being silent we are able to get better at collecting our thoughts, training our minds, and choosing how we want to enter the day. Here are three ways leaders use silence to grow their potential:
One of the most effective ways to develop your relationships is to build trust. To do this, it’s vital that you practice listening, and importantly get comfortable with silence. If you are able to make space for silence in the conversation you'll provide the person you're listening to with a life-changing experience.
Use nonverbal gestures and expressions to show interest, but allow the person to talk without a lot of commentary. This will make the person feel like you're interested in what they have to say and they'll likely share more information than they would if you interrupt or quickly jump in every time there is a slight pause.
But of course, we aren't always listening. Sometimes we need to talk. In these circumstances, choose your words. If you know me, you will know I am a bit of a talker, but I am learning that using fewer words allows one to be heard more clearly. This is especially true when asking questions - go for a simple, short, open question and stop when you have asked it.
As a leader, you have the power to provide others with the opportunity to create their own path to reach their goals. By asking them to share their thoughts, and to speak up with their own ideas you give them the opportunity to lead and find their own tools. We often make the mistake of jumping in to find or give a solution - especially if you have rescuing tendencies. However, this isn’t always the best strategy. I have found that when I give someone the space and time to think, vent, talk, they usually discover the answer on their own. They can more clearly see their role in the situation and/or a new perspective.
Make space for silence for yourself
There are plenty of opportunities in our days to be silent, and it's not always for listening to others either. Being silent with yourself is also important. A meditation, a few deep breaths in an empty meeting room, a walk at lunch. Time to be by yourself, get grounded and feel the power of silence.