During a seminar on communication I conducted a few months ago, I posed a question to my audience. No one was able to provide an immediate response, so I had to wait for a while until someone offered an answer.
At the end of the seminar, one of the attendees asked me how I could have remained so unperturbed by the nearly five minutes of deafening silence that followed my question. In my answer I explained that the silence lasted less than a minute—not five, as this individual and perhaps the rest of the attendees felt—and that learning to be at ease with silence can empower us to make effective use of it.
In our daily interactions with clients, occasionally we find ourselves in situations when there is silence in the conversation and the pause(s) feel agonizingly lengthy. Silence can make anyone awfully uncomfortable, coercing people to fill the air with words. Silence often frightens us because its emptiness feels idle, boring, unproductive and scary. Especially in our Western culture we are prone to think of silence as the absence of something, a gap that needs to be swiftly filled, as it feels odd and empty.
Contrary to our perception, silence is instead very rich with meaning once we let it speak to us. Think of the last time you experienced a period of silence during a client meeting. Recall the uneasiness you faced and the quick dash you made to fill the silence gap with words. You are not alone. Industry research revealed that just after 2 to 3 second after posing a question, the average individual engaged in some sort of client sale/interaction, restates her question and proceeds to answering it herself or changing the topic. This is due to the fear of facing a silent pause.
Let silence become your powerful ally, not your enemy. Silence temporarily quiets our ego enabling us to focus on the core of our issues in the present moment. It fosters introspection, which in turn leads to clarity of mind and to a mental expansion that enables ideas to spring within us and come to life. During a client meeting, silence can provide a golden opportunity to mindfully listen and wordlessly invite that person to fill “your silence gap” with valuable information that may enable you to get more business or assets. Remember that your client or prospect may loath silence as much as you do. Consequently, when facing your silent pause he or she may volunteer information that he or she would have otherwise kept to himself.
Silence can make you more effective, as it forces you to implement mindful listening, the foundation of effective communication, which nourishes both the speaker and the listener. During the course of a conversation with a client or prospect there are opportunities when you can strategically use silence to your advantage. For example, after posing the question, “What are the most important challenges our firm could help you address?” keep silent for a couple of moments to allow the prospect time to answer. After the answer, extending your silence a few more seconds will likely prompt her to further articulate on her answer and provide additional important information.
A well-placed silent pause can enable your clients to experience some specific insights, understanding or revelations that may not manifest during traditional verbal exchanges. In life, the answers to any of our questions always dwell within us, and most of the times silence rather than ongoing chatter is all we need to find an answer.
Claudio O. Pannunzio
President and Founder