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Relish the Silence

mr_silencex200One of the smartest men I have ever known did not fill silence.  Police interrogators use this tactic.  When they ask a question of a person of interest, they wait.  Even if they get an immediate answer, they wait.  Usually the interviewee will share more.  They will expound on their answer and perhaps share information not previously known by the police.  We all have a tendency to do this.  It’s because we don’t like silence.  When it exists, we feel the need to fill it.

In meetings, this smart man that I know rarely spoke.  He listened.  While others were actively debating an issue, he was listening to both sides.  Then, when the same points began to be repeated, as they always do in animated debates, he’d speak up.  With a brief statement, he’d bring everyone back to focus with a summarized solution that all could accept.  I enjoyed attending meetings with him just so I could watch him in action.  I often wondered if others in the room realized his strategy.  His gift for resolution was amazing.

Recently, I was involved in a discussion with five other individuals.  There were two possible actions and the team was equally divided in the opinion of which course of action was best.  Three people, including me, wanted Plan A.  The others argued for Plan B.  As the debate continued, I remembered my colleague’s strategy and I removed myself from the conversation and began to listen to the points being made by both sides.  As I really listened rather than either expressing my opinion or planning the next point I would make in support of my position, I learned that the two plans weren’t that distinct.  The starting point and the ending point were exactly the same.  It was the method of action that differed.  Further, the people responsible for actually taking the action weren’t even present to express an opinion.

I employed the tactic of the smart man I know and summed up the points and suggested we let the folks responsible for the action make the determination of the best approach.  Everyone agreed and the discussion was over.  It actually worked.

Note to self:  Talk less.  Listen more.  

joycex125With many years of senior-level human resources experience in the private sector environment, Joyce Chastain, SPHR brings practical know-how to each engagement. Her human resources consulting practice specializes in talent development, employee relations, internal investigations, employment law compliance, and affirmative action plans. She is the owner of Chastain Consulting and currently serves as the 2013-2014 President of the HR Florida State Council.

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1 Comment

  1. Using silence this way served me well when I was in the military inspecting military personnel units. Add to this our cultural need to confess our sins and you have a great technique to find out more about your candidate. Thanks for the great article!

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