According to my Myers-Briggs assessment scores, I am an extrovert. I like interacting and talking with people. I led teams with extroverts and introverts. When it came to expressing their thoughts and ideas, extraverts were metaphorically like hungry family members at a Thanksgiving dinner. Grabbing what was near and reaching over others to grab what wasn’t. The introverts were polite; they would wait for relatives to serve themselves and ask those seated next to them to pass items they could not reach. Instead of food, the extroverts on our leadership team dominated the floor while the introverts sat waiting for their turns. Looking around the table, I observed the dynamics of the team. After hearing all of the ideas expressed by the extroverts, I’d ask the introverts what they thought about the ideas on the table and if they had additional contributions. Many times, they did. They were able to see the gaps in our logic. While we were talking vociferously, introverts were thinking deeply and strategically.
At one point in my life, I didn’t think introverts had much to say. Thinking I was rescuing them from awkward silence when they didn’t speak up immediately, I kept talking. However, when I paused to listen, I discovered the power of silence before speaking. Sometimes when we talk, we say too much. We over-explain and repeat ourselves. In other words, we know what we know, but not what is in the hearts and minds of others. It is refreshing to hear new perspectives.
I have learned that silence gets people’s attention. I was in a meeting where I experienced it. Many of us were cross-talking during a meeting. Rather than demand that we stop chatting the leader became silent and made eye contact with each of us In an instant we stopped talking and gave our undivided attention to the boss. Anyone can employ this communication technique, but when used by leaders it’s even more potent.
There are so many things that compete for our attention: emails, texts social media to name a few. Trying to put all of those stimuli on pause for a moment and embrace the silence. Then listen to learn from others, not just to respond. Everything doesn’t need an immediate response. Sometimes you can view an issue through someone else’s eyes or vantage point. Being silent affords that opportunity. If used in the appropriate circumstance, silence is golden. Change your thoughts, change your destiny.