Talking AT someone is far different than talking WITH them. The former means you operate as Chatty Cathy, a very one-sided conversation. The latter represents an exchange of information requiring equal parts speaking... and listening. Most people don't engage in truly listening though, most are simply looking for their next opening to jump in and continue talking!
Technology may be proving to be an asset in providing us with new and varied ways of communicating with our audiences, but it is playing havoc with our ability to communicate effectively face to face, a skill that most senior managers and leaders require.
Science tells us that our favourite subject to talk about is... US! We spend about 60% of our conversations talking about ourselves, though this jumps to about 80% when we are communicating online. Given that our audience has the same desire as we do, it is not difficult to determine that the ideal would be a 50/50 split, allowing both parties to have equal billing.
Successful sales reps know the power of listening, of using silence as a means of truly coming to hear and understand the needs of the customer, of creating opportunities through silence. However, most others in business have not learned this lesson, and experience pressure to speak and fill in the conversational gaps. Typically, people are led to over-talking because:
- they are trying to impress their audience
- they lack confidence
- they are nervous and talking is a soothing behaviour
- they are conversationally unskilled, never having learned how to use questions properly to draw others into the conversation
People's inability to handle silence comfortably means that the Pause has become a very powerful interview and interrogation tool, used to elicit more information. Simply pausing after someone has answered a question, paired with facial and physical cues that make you appear 'expectant' of more information, is usually all it takes to get them to continue to 'share', usually with unplanned and unscripted information. Our discomfort with silence somehow creates a void that needs to be filled, often at our own expense.
Our attention spans are dwindling resources. Research shows that attention spans today are measured in seconds, at times being as high as 59 seconds and clocking in as low as eight. Technology is to blame, as is social media and the fact that we are constantly being hit with a barrage of information that is vying for our attention. The ability to focus is becoming a rare skill.
Is it any wonder then that our ability to listen effectively is being lost? All excellent listeners though are masters of the Pause. Notice how skilled politicians will pause before answering questions during media Q & A's, helping them to sound more self-assured, not less. Pausing before you speak...
- avoids the risk of interrupting someone inadvertently if they had simply stopped speaking to gather their thoughts
- tells your audience that you are giving careful consideration and thought to what they just shared. This lends your response weight and credibility
- lets you actually 'hear' the content of what the other party just shared, allowing you catch the nuances of the message better.
- will generally give you more time to process and store the preceding information more fully, aiding in your retention of the information
- tends to draw the attention of other's to you and the message you are about to share
Silence is a greatly underestimated source of power in a conversation, one that many overlook but that leaders learn to cultivate. A properly placed pause is your opportunity to truly hear not only what's being said, but also what isn't. This information can provide you with the information, insights and leverage needed to help you get ahead.