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The Power of Silence: How to Stimulate Conversation without Speaking

The Power of Silence: How to Stimulate Conversation without Speaking is an article in the South Florida Professional Coaching Alliance’s series on Powerful Techniques. These Powerful Techniques are useful to help any one succeed in different situations. Yes, we are being vague. Our Powerful Techniques series is not a one-technique fits every situation. The Powerful Techniques series is designed to be tools in your tool belt so you may use the tools for the situation that fits.

Silence is Powerful. Silence is Golden. Silence is … uncomfortable. People are naturally communicative and love to speak and interact with others. This hustle and this bustle tunes all of us to expect noise. Even the most introverted of people are uncomfortable with silence. Close your eyes and imagine some high-tech, silicon valley programmer coding away throughout the night to create the next big thing. What do you see in the room? What do you hear? I imagine a Sennheiser set of Headphones sits slightly askew on the programmers head one ear covered by the headphones and another ear open to the environment listing to the television in the back of the room tuned to Adult Swim. Surrounded by noise this programmer works through the night.

Even the strongest and most introverted of people need sound and find total silence disconcerting. We can use this to help us drive great conversations in our team. Before we go forward I want to ask you, dear reader, another question to imagine. Close your eyes and imagine (are your eyes closed? How are you reading this?) Close your eyes and imagine you are in a meeting room with 10 other people and your boss is talking. What do you hear? How does the meeting go? Who is directing the conversation? If you are like most of us any silence in the room is quickly filled with the leader in the room speaking. No moment is “wasted”. The room is constantly filled with conversation. Some of you may even imagine some project manager asking a team member a question to have the team members line manager interrupt the team member and answer. Speed and rapidity are the goals … we must maximize the team spent talking, minimize the time spent in silence, and this meeting will be a success! But is it? You are reading about The Power of silence so I imagine you do not agree.

How does this technique work? First and foremost you have to align with management or leadership. When I first learned this technique I was thwarted by over zealous leaders so keep this in mind. The technique? Don’t say anything.

The technique is best practices in small situations first before using in large rooms. Sit down next to a friend and don’t say anything. What happens? Your friend will speak. Start your next one-on-one with your direct report with: “This is your time” and then don’t speak. This will be the hard one for you. Your direct (if anything like mine was) will sit uncomfortably and fidget in the seat as the seconds slow tick to a minute. The silence, maddening, will inevitably cause the direct to ask a question, any question to direct the silence and now you can use the directs question to keep the direct speaking. No, don’t use it is the motion to take the conversation over use this to direct the conversation to get the direct to speak. Yes, Yes, a narrative is hard to follow so here is a fictious transcript and then to follow a real transcript where I was teaching this technique to a another manager.

Fake Transcript

Scene

Your direct report has entered your office for a one-on-one and you are seated, not at your desk, but in a chair facing your direct as an equal.

You

This is your time to talk about anything you like

45 Seconds Elapse

Direct

So what are we going to talk about

You

This is your time to talk about anything you like. Work? Home? Hobbies?

20 Seconds Elapse

Direct

[Your Direct Report Gives a Status Report; do not comment on status report unless there is a specific question]

I am going to be finished with the Anderson report tomorrow. It is really good. The customer is going to like it.

10 Seconds Elapse

Direct

Did you get a chance to look at the report?

You

Yes, I did. I like the report. What was the most challenging part?

[End Scene]

Notice it is ok to answer questions but we don’t want to dominate the conversation so when we answer questions we are short and to the point and use Powerful Questions to get the direct speaking more and us less.

This next narrative is a real transcript where I teach this technique to a new manager.

Scene

Video Teleconference Call

Me

I am going to teach you a new technique to help you get your team to open up.

Manager

Ok.

Me

Do I have your undivided attention?

Manager

Yes, Absolutely.

Me

I am now not going to speak for sixty-seconds

45 Seconds Elapse

Manager

This is the longest minute of my life

[End Scene]

We then spoke about the Power of Silence to get the teams to speak. This technique should not always be used. It is perfectly reasonable to expect you to have real conversations and real interactions with people. Sometimes, however, we conflate talking with value. By remaining silent we can help the real value and the real relationships shine forward.

If you are interested in learning more about The Power of Silence and want to work with a coach to practice reach out the South Florida Professional Coaching Alliance and we can pair you with a professional coach. Additionally, we have a fun activity called the expert’s activity which can help a small group learn how to use questions vs. talking to inform the room.


Ennis Lynch

Ennis Lynch

Ennis Lynch is a Professional Coach Based in South Florida. His primary area of coaching focuses on coaching Software Engineering Leadership. On occasion he does Agile Transformation work as well but prefers coaching at the Team and Individual level vs. the organizational level.


If you have ever wondered: is professional coaching right for you ? Are you a Software Engineering Manager, Director of Engineering, Director of Software Engineering, VP of Engineering, or CTO reach out for a free initial coaching session. Initial coaching sessions are the real deal, no hard-sells, no "here is what you would get if you paid". Individuals that receive a free coaching session will get a normal private professional coaching session of 90 minutes (30 minute onboarding + 60 minute coaching) and it will be up to you to follow-up if you want to continue with help on your journey.


Ennis Lynch

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