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Don’t Be Afraid Of Silence

(August 22, 2023 Newsletter)

Last week I shushed a CEO.


The situation: On a group coaching call with a bunch of other CEOs, the one in the “hot seat” was asked a question. He started speaking, but then paused. He glanced upward, his mouth half open, his brow furrowed. He was clearly formulating a thought.


Another CEO on the line interrupted the silence to prompt the person to keep talking. He was trying to help, but I put my hand up, shushed him, and said, “Let him think.”


The next words out of the guy’s mouth were profound. Thank goodness he had a few quiet moments to organize his thoughts.


The challenge: There are many reasons why leaders speak in meetings when they shouldn’t.

  • Discomfort with silence

  • They’re trying to help

  • They think they’re supposed to have all the answers

  • They’re used to hearing their voice

  • They’re used to people deferring to them

  • They’re pressed for time and want to move the conversation along

(Which of these are most true for you? What did I leave off the list?)


The tradeoff: On the other hand, what do leaders miss out on when they step in to fill the silence?

  • Creative and thoughtful answers

  • Valuable perspectives beyond one’s radar

  • Independent judgment and spirited debate

  • Allowing those who process differently to wrap their heads around the question or concept on the table

Solutions: If you want to develop those around you to grow into confident and collaborative leaders, I encourage you to take a beat.

  • Start by noticing when you’re tempted to fill a silence and just pause. My favorite trick is taking a long sip of water. It’s a win-win… you remember to hydrate and others have time to think.

  • If needed, ask a follow up question (or rephrase the original question) to insist on getting answers before giving your own answer to your question.

I’d also encourage you to scroll back up to the list of reasons why leaders fill silence and challenge one of your key assumptions.

  • What about silence makes you so uncomfortable?

  • Why do you think you need to have all the answers?

  • What are the tradeoffs of moving the conversation along quickly?

This week, leave a bit more space in at least one 1:1 or team meeting to let people think – let me know how it goes.

 

The Coaching Corner


Integrate coaching skills at an upcoming team offsite


A client asked recently how to apply the coaching skills she’s been working on with her team members at an upcoming team retreat. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Set clear goals together – make sure that the goal for the entire offsite is clear, plus how each section contributes to achieving the goal. Instead of setting them alone, get input from the group in advance on what they want to achieve that day.

  2. Prepare provocative questions – open-ended questions are a key piece of the coaching puzzle. Be ready with a few questions that begin with how, what, or why.

  3. Offer encouragement – this is a key time to articulate specific appreciation. When should you do this? All. Day. Long. Start the day with explaining why you’re confident the day will be a success; as people open up and share, call out what you appreciate about their answers; and wrap up at the end with gratitude for the behaviors you want to see more.

 

Recommendations

  1. A few weeks ago I mentioned Permission to Speak by Samara Bay – now that I finished it, I can say that while I don’t agree with every word, there are so many actionable points and reframes of deeply held societal norms that I’d recommend it to any Comm&Lead reader who wants to own your voice.

  2. And now I’m onto The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath – I’m loving it so far. Next week’s newsletter will reference a section on which I took extensive notes.

 

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