Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Power of Silence

shush

The headline was a stunner:  “If You Want People to Listen, Stop Talking.”

 

Of course, I was compelled to read the provocative article by consultant Peter Bregman in the May 25th issue of the Harvard Business Review.

 

Bregman writes:  “It’s counterintuitive, but it turns out that listening is far more persuasive than speaking.”  He tells the story of a managing director and “master persuader” he knows, whose power is centered in listening, not speaking.  “George was silent more than anyone else who spoke, and often, he spoke last.”  That’s because he was listening.

“I could tell what George was doing,” Bregman reports, “because when he decided to speak, he was able to articulate each person’s position. And, when he spoke about what they said, he looked at them in acknowledgement, and he linked what they had said to the larger outcome they were pursuing….Because it was clear that George had heard them, people did not argue with him. And, because he had heard them, his perspective was the wisest in the room.” 

Here are some additional observations by Bregman about the benefits of silence that I found particularly interesting:

  • “There is almost always more substance below the surface of what people say than there is in their words.” They have issues and agendas that they might be reluctant to share. … “We can hear all those things — and more — when we keep quiet. We can feel the substance behind the noise.”
  • “Because words can so often get in the way, silence can actually help you make connections.”  That’s because listeningmakes you more willing not only to keep listening, but to incorporate each other’s perspectives.”
  • “If you treat this silence thing as a game, or as a way to manipulate the views of others, it will backfire. Inevitably, you will be discovered, and your betrayal will be felt more deeply. If people are lured into connection, only to feel manipulated, they may never trust you again.”

 Bregman’s piece is an excellent reminder that communications is not a one-way street.  And that there are as many ways to communicate as there are people with something to say.