You Know, Sometimes We Should Just Shut Up

I’m reading two books at the same time this week. It’s a game I’m playing on the BART train to kill time on my way to the university.

These books are very similar in style. Truthfully, I could read about nine pages of each and understand the takeaway – Sometimes it’s good to be quiet.

Try this today at work. Ask a colleague a question. Listen to the answer. When they have delivered the answer, don’t say anything. Just sit or stand there, and maintain eye contact. It’ll seem like an hour, though it’s actually two or three seconds..

I’ll bet you a dollar they resume talking.

We generally don’t love silence. We who are/were in radio had this pounded into our heads, and it was not good advice. They told us “dead air” was bad. It’s not. It’s the best possible ingredient to a conversation.

Wait for it, wait for it…

Here’s a quote from the legendary Jim Lehrer, former anchor of the “News Hour” on PBS. This is his key to conducting an authentic on-air interview:

“If you resist the temptation to respond too quickly to the answer, you’ll discover something almost magical. The other person will either expand on what he’s already said or he’ll go in a different direction. Either way, he’s expanding his response, and you get a clear view into his head and heart.”

Genius, it is.

This is hardly a new technique. We just easily forget it, because we’re wired to respond instantly to questions, especially if someone takes a shot at us. We recoil and unleash a response, with absolutely no forethought. How many times do you think our first response was our best one?

A couple of days ago I wrote this about the power of the pause. When you are in an interview, a savvy hiring manager might use this trick. You can too, you know.

This takes all of three seconds.

  • Pause
  • Drop your shoulders
  • Breathe
  • Gather up the response
  • Deliver it

Your response will be more measured – and more authentic. When you are the one asking the questions, resist the urge to hop back in. Let it simmer for a moment.

There is also a sinister element to this verbal pump on the brakes. Watch a savvy politician be interviewed on TV. They normally deliver their soundbite, and they stop. They know that if they keep going, something real and unprepared might be uttered!

Let your job interviewer talk a bit more. Most importantly, listen to their words. Hear them, and let those words soak in.

You have the answer to their real question. Give them time to ask it.


Picture of John ScottThere are 6 days left in John’s Kickstarter campaign to produce a hardcover version of his new book, “Destination:Reinvention”.

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