The Greatest Communicators Have Mastered the Power of the Pause

Silence can speak louder than yelling. If you really want to be heard, if you want to enhance your leadership skills to the next level, learn the power of the pause.

The pause was underlined for me yesterday morning when I was writing one of my Inc. articles. I was listening to some classical music. It was playing in the background and pleasant. Suddenly, there was a pause. I immediately looked over to the Android device sitting near my computer.

Before I could even get the full thought in my mind, “Something must be wrong,” the music started again. Nothing wrong–just Beethoven’s way of saying, “Don’t zone out, pay attention.”

That afternoon, I was facilitating a team meeting at a client’s office that was filled with anger and upset. The air was so thick you could, as the saying goes, cut it with a knife.

I was hoping the head of the group would stop the back and forth blaming. She, I could see, was hoping I would come to her rescue. Not my style. I believe when you are in charge, you need to take charge. That was our early agreement and we both needed to stick to it. I was there as it got too out of hand and somehow, I knew she would orchestrate this session elegantly.

In any case, I nodded to her and said aloud, “Susan, how would you like to handle this?”

This is when I thought Beethoven would be proud.

She stood up (standing to make a point is for another post). Then she took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak. Closed her mouth and took another moment for another deep breath and looked around the room.

That moment of her pause was all they needed. All eyes on Susan, all ears ready to hear what she would say, all bodies at attention.

Next, she did not blame, attack, or justify. She used the power of three words to underline her concern.

“This is why [another millisecond pause], this is why we are stuck.”

Susan is a woman who talks rapidly. She did not slow her speech. She simply paused. That was all she needed to do to show she was in charge.

Observe the power of the pause:

  • It conveys emotion: Sure, Susan was stressed. You would be, too. Just don’t add to the noise.
  • It controls the pace of the discussion: Don’t slow your voice, slow the action.
  • It creates room for health: You can get more oxygen to your brain and give yourself more time to think about your response.
  • It gives time to engage others: Everyone can gather their thoughts more effectively.
  • It breaks the old pattern: People can’t keep up the old complaining that is now just background noise.

After she sat down, it was eerily silent for, oh, about 20 seconds. Then someone started the real dialogue. “I guess I was part of the noise before. I apologize.” Someone else said, “We won’t ever get where we want to go if we keep pointing fingers at each other. I’m also sorry.”

It’s like a virus…only this one is positive. Once someone becomes accountable for his or her behavior, it’s infectious, and others become compelled to also come forward. Don’t believe me? Take a moment to pause at your next contentious meeting and see what happens!


Originally published on Inc