Using the silence in your leadership conversations


“I nodded, smiled encouraging and said nothing. It felt like ages and I was conscious of the quietness and then she spoke and came up with a way of moving forward …” These are the words of Tom as he feeds back on his coaching ‘homework’ which was to practice his listening skills.

Tom is an effervescent character who thinks aloud and loves to talk. Development areas from his 360 included listening with intent and giving others a voice and opportunity to speak. In between the coaching sessions, Tom had set about to improve his listening skills, do less talking and use more of a coaching approach in his conversations.

Silence is powerful

There is no need to fill it when there is a gap in the conversation. Silence has an energy all of its own. It helps to cut out the noise, slow down the mind and enables us to be present and connected with the flow of energy around us.

Leaders who take time to create moments of silence can exude a feeling of calm and confidence to those around them.

Making use of silence in conversations

1. Taking time to listen demonstrates that the voice, perspectives, ideas of the other person matter. It signals that you value what is being said resulting in better rapport, trust and hence relationships

2. When you are listening with intent, you are being present, attentive and conveying that at this point in time, the other person is the only one who matters. This is a very powerful message. It conveys empathy, respect, empowerment and enables the other person to feel safe in expressing herself

3. A standard conservative question is likely to receive a quick response. Ask an incisive or probing question (you can only do this if you have listened well) and the other person will have to think, search for answers with a resulting slower response

4. Holding that space signals that the person has the time to think and you have the time to give. Demonstrate that you are ‘there’ with the other person by your supportive body language, being comfortable with the silence, making eye contact, adopting a relaxed body posture

5. Resist from taking the power away from the other person by breaking the silence. She is processing information, making connections, finding new patterns…All this helps to generate new insight, awareness, ideas and for new options and opportunities to surface. From silence emerges moments of self discovering, that shift of thinking and those ‘aha’ moments

6. Silence helps you to be more in tune with your body, feelings and emotions…when the silence is broken, ask the other person what feelings they were experiencing and check in on your own

7. If for whatever rare reason you need to break the silence – you could acknowledge it …“I am sensing that something important is happening within you” or ask a question, “what is emerging from this for you?”

Effective leaders are excellent listeners. Take your listening and communication skills one step further by making use of pauses and silences. Hold the space and let the other person access her inner guidance and watch her grow in her resourcefulness and problem solving abilities. Imagine the outcomes and benefits if you were to adopt this approach with all your staff? 

Working in a group or leading a meeting? Request a minute of silence before you begin to encourage everyone to be present and mindful

Want to know more? Good resources include Susan’s Scott’s  Fierce Conversations and Live One Conversation and Nancy Kline’s Time to Think and More time to think


About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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