3 Ways To Boost Discussions With Silence
And Engage People In The Meeting Room
Remember the old adage, “silence is golden”? Truer words have rarely been spoken. Here’s how you can leverage silence to gain an advantage in and out of the meeting room.
1.Leverage Silence to Lead The Discussion
It takes a long time before two people find silence comfortable when they are together. The more people and the more formal the discussion, the more difficult it is for them to remain silent. Silence can be overwhelming, awkward. But it can also lead to better discussions.
First things first - why is silence so stressful? One study blames technology. We’re always one tap away from some sort of noise - be it a TV set, a music player, smartphone or computer. We’ve grown accustomed to being enveloped by intentional sound (sound directed at us with a purpose) so it may be possible that we simply do not know what to do without said noise. From this lack (loss?) of knowledge, coupled with our inherent fear of the unknown, stressful or awkward silence may arise.
Ok, why is this important? Because people tend to fill silence with whatever they can. Just as Descartes’ world had an horreur du vide and tried to fill it with substance, so do modern humans abhor silence and start talking, playing music or producing sound.
You can take advantage of this weird side-effect of technology and play upon another psychological trick - people love talking about themselves. It gives them a slight brain-high.
What you should do is share a little about your expectations, lay the grounds for the others to talk about themselves and ask a couple of questions. Then wait it out. Once your partner(s) start talking, go in-depth with your questions, steering them to wherever you need them to end up. Get them to lay out their opinions in as much detail as possible, to get to know them and their way of thinking. This will greatly help you build your case and take the lead in the discussion.
2. Hone Your Active Listening Skills to Prevent Misunderstandings
Picture yourself in a hot debate on a topic you’re passionate about. Like the latest you’ve had at a cup of coffee or a pint of beer, with an old friend who was simply “wrong”. Your friend might have been wrong, sure. But are you really sure? See, more often than not, we’re not listening to our discussion partners. Meetings take place in our heads more than in our meeting rooms, bars, homes or skype call.
If you’ve ever found yourself formulating a counter-argument before your peers had the chance to finish speaking - I know I’m guilty of that - than you should consider taking some time to read more about active listening.
Active listening is often used by counsellors and police negotiators in order to defuse conflicts. Not because it puts people at ease or anything, but because it makes them feel understood and welcome.
The basics are simple enough - leave your arguments at the door, pay full attention to what you hear and be silent. Wait for people to finish talking. Once they’re done, rephrase key elements in their discourse as questions and make sure you understood correctly. Besides building rapport, this way of discussing keeps everyone on the same page and eliminates possible confusions or misunderstandings.
3. Induce Self-Second-Guessing
When involved in a formal gathering around a business topic, especially during negotiations, people tend to expect immediate responses (unless stated otherwise).
You can use silence to push people into reconsidering their questions or proposals - consider being sold an expensive solution to a problem you have. If you want to bring the price down, pause for a bit before replying. Take some notes, do your thinking on paper. Let your analytical side show and move the your train of thought towards tangible results and logical arguments - this way you’ll avoid falling in love with a sales pitch and refocus on what’s important to your company. Moreover, by taking your time to analyze the proposition, you show you’ve done your homework on the subject (even if you haven’t) and force the person doing the convincing to reassess their plan. Win with their arguments, not with yours.
Over to you - how have you harnessed silence to your advantage? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll make sure to update the article to fit your experience as well.