So often in meetings we claim that we want to hear from folks but actually communicate that we’d like them to stay quiet.
Open-ended questions, silences that last more than five seconds, smiling – people respond to those.
“Anything else?” That provokes silence.
Pay attention, the next time you hear someone speak, to the difference between quiet and silence. Quiet is the sound of people paying attention and listening actively. But there are still rustling papers, people still shift in their seats, adjust their clothes or just uncross and recross their legs.
And then there’s silence. It overtakes the room, covers it up, stills the air. It is a presence so real that you can’t help but hear and feel it if you’re paying just a bit of attention. It is stillness. It is people leaning in. It is people actually holding their breath.
I’ve started paying attention to when this moment happens, and it seems to me that it is the moment that a speaker steps towards real truths. This truth can come in the form of honesty, in the form of openness and in the form of vulnerability. It can be stark or honest. It is always unadorned and there’s never any showmanship.
This kind of silence doesn’t last long – 30 seconds maybe, because people can’t hold their breath forever. But if you start to notice it you can start to see what it really takes to get people to listen with their whole bodies. Truth.
You know that moment when you ask for something really big? Big enough that it makes you nervous and makes the person you’re asking nervous?
Your empathy will scream out for you to rescue the person – and you – from the discomfort you just created.
Don’t do it.
Let the seconds tick by.
Now the best way for that discomfort to go away is to have the person you’ve just made a big ask of say “Yes.”