An important–no, a vital–part of quality communications is NOT talking. That means sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut. Silence is the only way you can listen. But it’s often not easy to do!
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The Power of the Pause
Last week, my 10 year old son went with me to the grocery store. He loves coming with me when his sister’s not around because it means he gets to ride in the front seat. He was loading up CDs in the CD player which is something he’s never done because he’s just started to ride in the front seat here and there on short errands. Then he found my ancient CD of The Strokes and we were listening to them, I was telling him how they were the hottest band for about two seconds when I first moved to New York City. And then he turned down the radio all the way and said, “Mom I’ve been wondering something. What are you and Daddy going to do when Lillian and I have left home?” Kids, right? I did not see this coming.
I told him I hadn’t thought about it that much and just rattled off some ideas I had. Then, I paused to take a breath, and keep talking. Because, I often feel like when I get these openings to talk about things that are more important than your basic what’s for dinner and please drink some water and who wants to watch an episode of ‘Alone?’ But because it was something I hadn’t really given much thought to, I paused longer than normal. And then he just kept talking and asking questions.
And if I just answered his question and then shut my mouth, he just kept talk and asking questions. Usually I would be trying to make it a teachable moment, you know, and cram in as much info as I could while he seemed to be in a receptive state. It was a great reminder that we don’t always need to be driving the bus during a conversation, and trying to steer it where we want to go, or keep it alive. Sometimes, we just have to remember to be quiet.
Stop Jabbering and Start Listening
Especially during an awkward conversation, our tendency can be to just keep jabbering away in order to fill the void. It can almost feel like a huge urge to keep talking, like a pressure from within. But it doesn’t help!
Another reason we can talk too much is when we feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, or in the wrong. Like, if someone invites you to do something and you can’t or don’t want to do it for whatever reason, instead of simply saying “Thanks for the invite but I can’t make it,” we tend to go on and on about the reason why. Truly, sometimes NOT talking is the biggest gift we can give. After all, you can’t listen when you’re talking. It’s also hard to be present. When you’re not talking, you can take in the other person’s body language. You can feel your own breath, your own heartbeat. You can rest and be more attentive.
Get Comfortable With Silence
There is advice on how to negotiate or sell something that counsels that after you make your offer, the first person to speak is the one who will capitulate. I don’t love that advice because it makes it seem like you’re trying to get one over on the person you’re negotiating with. But as a business owner, I’ve learned that when I’m talking to a prospective client, whether that’s for ghostwriting or coaching, after I’ve made my offer I just need to shut my mouth.
The people you’re talking to need time to take in what you’ve said, and to process, and giving them that space is actually a gift. It’s really rare to share space inside of a quiet pause with someone else. And really, it’s this novelty that I think makes it feel so uncomfortable. We’re just not used to it. But it’s how we give each other the chance to catch up to what the other person has just said. It says, ‘I’m here, I’m listening, I’ll wait.’ Which, isn’t that such a nice thing to feel?
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to remember to hold back in your next conversation with someone. Where you would normally insert chatter about something, pause instead. See what happens. See if the conversation takes a turn you didn’t expect, or goes deeper than you might have expected.