As a professional trainer I have many opportunities to support professional coaches, sales people, managers, and leaders in developing their communication skills. Some communication skills that are covered in our trainings are: listening skills, asking great questions, building rapport, influencing, etc. If participants continue to practice and apply everything they’ve learned during the training, they can become excellent communicators. Practice is the best way to shift your knowledge from conscious to unconscious level.
Still, there is one communication skill that is often overlooked. Most of the professionals I know neither use it effectively nor like to face a person who uses it. It usually puts pressure on all involved parties. There is an unwritten rule in direct sales (and quite often in negotiations) that says: “the person who breaks it first, loses”. Coaches who are afraid to use this skill usually ask unnecessary questions that are not allowing the clients to connect inner dots and get insights. You guessed it… I am talking about the silence.
Have you ever thought why silence is so powerful?
Most people don’t consider silence to be a communication skill at all. In countries I am working in, any sort of extended silence in conversation is not allowed. When we communicate, we want communication to flow. For most of us communication means exchanging verbal and nonverbal messages. We put our attention on the content, tone of voice and rhythm, specific phrases, hand gestures, etc., but when we get silence as an answer our mind starts to panic.
“Red alert! What to do now? This freak in front of me doesn’t communicate!”
Actually, the person in front of us is communicating, but we are not able to understand the message. No one expects silence. We expect everything else… words, motion, defense, offense… but silence, come on! And while we expect to leap into the fray, the silence works like the best “expectations’ eliminator”.
The fact is that an average professional is not trained to deal with the silence. When faced with the silence, an average professional feels obligated to fill it. It often provokes more communication, more information, and most of the time affects rapport in a negative way. It usually creates leverage and power on behalf of the listener.
When used it in the right way, silence can slow the pace of a conversation, and if both parties feel comfortable, it can bring new insights and ideas.
Please remember… It is not your responsibility to fill every vacuum of silence with noise. There are many situations (even on daily basis) when silence is the best answer you can give.