This week, Jeff Bezos shared an interesting technique he uses to make sure team members don’t go off-topic during a meeting. He uses silence as a tool. At the beginning of each executive meeting, they all gather together and sit quietly to read the latest memo. That silence is likely jarring for many new employees who are used to a rushed workday. Silence is a funny thing. Some people crave silence while others find silence uncomfortable if not distracting. Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, there are many strategic uses for silence in the workplace.
Anyone in sales knows silence is a strategic advantage during negotiations. Experienced sales reps learn to listen more, say less, and let silence fill in the unknowns. Because most people are uncomfortable with prolonged episodes of silence, they will work to fill the space with something. Sometimes they fill that space with valuable information that can be used during the negotiation. Other times, the silence creates enough discomfort that the other party will agree to the terms just to escape the awkward encounter.
Recruiters and interviewers use silence strategically to get more information. Silence makes people nervous. When we’re nervous, we tend to talk more. All the pre-planned answers to typical interview questions disappear when the interviewer gets a person to start volunteering information to fill the space.
But not every use of silence in the workplace is intended to disturb the balance of power. Silence, meditation, deep breathing, reflection, and mindfulness should be exercised daily to maintain good cognitive health. If you frequently find yourself saying “this day has been so crazy I haven’t even had time to think” then you absolutely must carve out time for reflective thought. It may sound counter-intuitive, but slowing down can help you speed up. Instead of fighting fires and chasing solutions to problems. Taking time to think, reflect, and plan will allow you to mentally get ahead of your challenges and plan for them in a new way.
Finally, when you intentionally create space for silence, you open yourself up to active listening. Stopping to reflect on the content of the other person’s dialogue in addition to their observable nonverbal cues should enable you to respond more effectively and connect on a deeper level.
Silence is powerful. A meaningful silence is always more powerful than meaningless words.