Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and noticed the other person wasn’t listening? You were rolling out your most important points in a quick and succinct way, only to stare into a blank face. Sometimes leaders are so eager to share their goals and objectives that they are unaware of whether or not their information is being digested and understood. We are oftentimes up against the clock and think the most efficient and effective way to have a conversation is to present our case and carefully share our plan of action. The challenge for leaders is that a conversation involves more than one person- a sender and at least one receiver. More importantly, leaders cannot learn about the underlying concerns if they are not fully engaged and listening. Over the years that I have worked with leaders, one way I have learned that can create strong conversations is the ability to strategically listen. If leaders can intentionally remain silent, an exchange of ideas can emerge. Here are a few ways to master the art of silence:
- Follow the 80/20 rule: According to Bernard Ferrari, an alumnus of McKinsey, a conversation partner should be speaking 80 percent of the time, while a leader should only speak 20 percent of the time. The receiver in a conversation should do the bulk of the talking and explaining, while the leader listens intently for concerns and misunderstandings. Once you make your presentation, take a deep breath, close your mouth and open your ears to hear what was communicated. Being able to take our egos out of the equation can sometimes be difficult.
- Ask a lot of questions: Instead of spending time explaining your plans and vision, take the opportunity to ask clarifying questions. A leader who doesn’t come up for air when they are having a conversation, will never get the full story or find out what obstacles might prevent a successful outcome. Leaders owe it to themselves and the team to hear what each team member has to offer. A few pointed questions can allow for a clearer vision.
- Find the fine line between sharing ideas and interrupting: The quality of a conversation can be knowing when to offer some input at just the right time. Leaders must learn to be more patient and to think before interrupting. It is often better to let the other person finish their thoughts completely before interrupting with a question or a suggestion. It is best for leaders to see where the conversation is going before assuming you know what will be said. Practice being silent. The more a leader does it, the better they will be at remaining silent.
Remaining silent can be a wonderful way for others who are less assertive to speak up. More meaningful conversations may emerge if we learn to remain quiet.
So are you a leader who is ready for the power of silence?