People don’t like silence. An awkward pause can be painful to sit through, but for business leaders at every level, it can also be an excellent tool.

The truth is that sometimes people need a little prompting to say what they want to say. It’s easier as a manager to keep talking and to try and lead the conversation, but it can actually be far more powerful to sit back and wait.

Most people don’t like sitting quietly, especially in an environment designed for conversation. Whether you are in a one on one meeting, or a group discussion, leaving room for silence can be a great way to stoke conversation. It might seem counterintuitive, but it works well.

Imagine you need to speak to your employee because you’re worried there’s something wrong. It might be that they’re stressed or upset.

The first step is to ask what’s wrong, but you shouldn’t go further than that, you’ll find that waiting for an answer, even if there’s a pause, will get you better results than steaming ahead. You’ll find that in most cases the employee will speak a little and maybe get close to what’s really bothering them, but they won’t commit to raising the real issue until they’ve had more time to formulate that response. A lot of managers will speak at this point, but instead, they would wait a moment and allow for the silence. In most cases the employee will carry on and let you know what’s actually bothering them.

Similarly, in a coaching or mentoring environment, use silence to your advantage. Ask a question or make a comment, and then wait. The natural reaction to a gap in conversation is to fill it with thought, just like we do in everyday conversation. In a mentoring or coaching environment this gives the mentee a chance to think about their words formulate a further response and then articulate it.

It is worth bearing in mind that this is different to training. If you’re directly imparting knowledge, then talking and demonstration is key. But if you want real insight from your team, or if you want them to reach the conclusion that makes sense, you’ll always get better results by letting them get there without your prompts.

In coaching, there is a golden 80-20 rule, which means that the coach should only be talking 20% of the time in any session. Taking that approach into your working life is an amazing way to learn more, empower your staff to their own decisions, and to build a relationship based on mutual understanding and trust.

If you would like to improve your leadership skills, get in touch today.