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The power of the pause

There's a time for speaking and then there's a time for silence. Pausing and using silence as a communication tool can be very powerful.

Great communicators have an impact, but often their impact isn’t just about what they say, it’s about how they say it. They know when to talk, and when not to talk. That is, they know when to pause and how to use silence.

The pause is powerful, and yet it’s often overlooked or misused.

If you want a perfect example of how to convey a message with silence then watch Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. He takes more than 20 seconds to respond to a journalist’s question about the US President, Donald Trump’s, handling of the recent protests.

While he eventually answers, it’s his long pause at the start that speaks volumes.

Powerful communicators have long known the power of pausing and using silence. Most of us are uncomfortable with silence. Just think back to a first date, where you may have rushed to fill any awkward break in the conversation with more words.

Successful negotiators have also recognised that silence is a powerful tool in their negotiating kit. They know when to speak and when to say nothing. In the space of ‘no words’ the other side will often make concessions – agreeing to what’s been put on the table.

In many other aspects of life, there is a time and a place for the pause.

Firstly, the pause gives you time to process, think and then respond. It effectively gives your brain time to catch up with your mouth. When you are in the rush of an animated or heated conversation, it can be easy to blurt something out that you regret later. However, when you slow down and pause, you become more conscious of how you are feeling, giving yourself time to breathe, ponder and then respond.

It also gives those conversing with you time to do likewise; to process, think and consider how they respond. The conversation, therefore, feels less rushed and more considered.

As well, because most people feel uncomfortable with silence, you being comfortable with silence creates an image of someone who has confidence, authority and presence. All elements which elevate the impact you can have.

If you are delivering a speech, a pause can help to build emotion and anticipation. The audience will wonder about what’s next and how the presentation will unfold. The audience can also be more drawn to what you are saying.

So in your work and personal life, consider what you can do to create space for the pause and time for silence.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you need to do to be more comfortable with silence?
  • When is the pause best applied?
  • Where are the opportunities for you to say less, and yet have more impact?
  • And of course, when do you need to speak up because to remain silent is to endorse what’s unethical and unjust?

As the famous writer, Mark Twain, once remarked:

“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause”.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated. 

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