A Good Chance to Shut up

By Lou Solomon

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It’s easy to forget how powerful silence can be.  We are all so busy we talk on cell phones as we walk to and from the car. It is so noisy all of the time, and there’s something being said all of the time.

Pausing for a second or two of silence is a deceptively easy act, and many of us prefer to hear ourselves talk.

Pause, even from the podium

Silence doesn’t come easy when we stand to speak, either. As soon as we feel the impact of adrenaline, it seems easier to talk nonstop. Yet silence communicates confidence and thoughtfulness. Speaking is about dynamic energy. Pausing creates magnetic energy.

Speakers who talk nonstop actually create stress for listeners who are trying to keep up.

The more self-conscious the speaker, the less he or she will pause.  When adrenaline has its way, you begin to take shallow breaths. You don’t project well, and you sit down wondering what in the world you just said. Learning to pause is no less than transformational.

Some of the many benefits of silence

1. Audience understanding. A pause tells listeners, “new paragraph” or “transition.”  Listeners can’t just sponge up the spoken word without pausing to assimilate.

2. Thoughtfulness. Silence invites listeners to experience thoughtfulness. If you reflect on what you’ve just said, we will as well. Don’t say something profound and jump to the next thought. We’ll miss it all together.

3. Breathing. Oxygen cures most ailments of the self-conscious speaker. A breath of air will calm you, keep your brain from shutting down and allow your voice to project. If you do not pause, you cannot breathe properly.

4. Trust. First, trust that you have something important to say. Trust even more that pausing will give you access to your own authenticity. Listeners will trust that your words come from the heart.

5. Clarity without clutter. The hidden power of the intentional pause lies in the counteraction of unnecessary nonwords. Under the stress of adrenaline, many of us “um” it up. Pausing will eliminate the bulk of nonwords.

6. Emphasis. If you want listeners to take special note of a point you’re about to make, pause before you say it. If you want to emphasize something you’ve said, pause and say it again.

7. Creativity. Harvard professor Howard Gardner argues that five minutes of thoughtful reflection in the morning will contribute to your level of creativity throughout the day. If you feel you’re too busy to pause for five minutes, all the more reason to pause for five minutes.

8. Confidence. If you learn to make a connection with your audience in a moment of silence, you can relax into a real conversation. Listeners will relax when they see that you are confident and comfortable with silence.

9. Listening. Learn to slow down and listen to yourself and to others. Instead of jumping into a conversation at every opportunity to match insights, allow natural stops that invite others to comment.  The willingness to be silent is attractive, and it empowers the other person to
fully express.

Will Rogers said it best: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”


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