I learned the power of silence from my father. He knew when to speak out and he knew exactly when to be quiet. He was personable, kind and an ace in business. He was always telling stories or chatting up a new friend.
At a young age I learned the power of silence from him, and I have employed this skill throughout my career.
Here is what I picked up when my three brothers and I were less than angelic.
Four boys can cause a bit of trouble
My parents had their hands full raising four boys who were close in age. We were not bad kids, but we were high energy, we fought with each other, and generally caused problems.
My brothers and I often employed a fair amount of finger pointing, attempting to place the blame for various tomfoolery on one another. This foolish tactic hardly ever worked. Our parents were on to us.
They had to ferret through who broke the window, how I got a slight concussion or why the downstairs bathroom sink was ripped off the wall. And when the damage or infraction was great enough, my Mother would defer the interrogation to Dad. She handled plenty of our shenanigans but she knew when to bring in the closer.
Fewer words creates impact
My Dad would choose his words carefully with us when he was trying to get to the bottom of something.
When it really mattered he used fewer words than more. He employed long pauses and short, to the point, sentences. These deliberate breaks in speech and limited word choice created impact - it certainly got our attention.
There were times when the four of us would dig in and think we could wait him out. We put on our best poker faces, but it was just a matter of time. Dad would sit there silently, with his arms crossed, and capture the gaze of each of us in turn. The silence was maddening and the four of us sang like canaries.
Interrogation and negotiation are closely linked
Using silence as a negotiating tool is a powerful skill. Mastering this skill provides you the edge over others. I have used this technique in professional situations and it allowed me to be heard when I really wanted my message to count.
“So, boys, what do you think we should do about this?” We knew our punishment was coming but Dad wanted us to identify and be part of the solution. He guided us to creating a plan to pay for that broken picture window, fix that sink or apologize to each other.
The same can be said of good leaders at work. People support what they help to create. Asking for comments, ideas and solutions at work is a great way to build buy-in, consensus and act as a leader.
Silence takes practice
Keeping quiet is harder than you think. I have been “practicing” this for years and I still muck it up from time to time by speaking too soon. Let the other party sweat it out and wonder what you're thinking. It’s not something that comes naturally - but it’s a powerful tool.
My Father has been gone for five years now but I still think of him each day. I am so thankful he taught me and my brothers, among hundreds of other lessons, the power of silence.