Success and Silence

Dynamic communication skills are one of the keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become a dynamic communicator, you need to master three skills: 1) conversation, 2) writing and 3) presentations.

I am helping a friend write a book.  She has a compelling story to tell – born in a “little house on stilts” with no running water or electricity in the middle of a sugar cane plantation in Puerto Rico, retired as the Chief HR Officer for one of the largest companies in the world.

I am helping her gather her thoughts by doing a series of interviews that will become the first draft of her book.  An interview is nothing more than a conversation.  And in conducting the interviews with my friend, I have learned again the importance of silence to becoming a good conversationalist.

As she spoke in an interview we did yesterday, I found myself wanting to do two things: jump in and ask more questions as she was speaking, or add thoughts of my own.  Neither of these practices is particularly helpful in establishing a good rhythm for a conversation.  The second is worse.  I was interviewing her to hear her story – not to tell mine. 

I found that if I just listened, and occasionally muttered an encouraging “uh uh,” she did fine.  She was into the flow, and answered many of the questions I would have asked her in a more complete manner than if I had interrupted the conversation to ask them.  Many of the real nuggets of wisdom came toward the end of her answers.  Most of them came after a five or ten second pause.

There is an important message here if you want to develop your conversation skills.  Don’t be afraid of silence in a conversation.  Most often, silence means that a person is merely gathering his or her thoughts.  They are thinking about what to say next.  Silence helps conversations.  It shows that you are paying attention to what is being said and not preparing an answer or rebuttal as it is being said.  It also allows the person with whom you are in conversation, the time to think through what he or she wants to add to what has already been said.  Try being quiet the next time you are in a conversation.  I guarantee you’ll get better quality information and learn more than if you fill every moment with words.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people are dynamic communicators.  Dynamic communicators are great conversationalists.  Silence is an important, but often underused conversation technique.  Get comfortable with silence.  Give the other person time to gather his or her thoughts instead of jumping in as soon as he or she has stopped talking — worse yet, interrupting him or her in the middle of a thought.  Good conversationalists are good listeners.  Good listeners are comfortable with silence.

That’s my take on the importance of silence and conversations.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts.  As always, thanks for reading.


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