Silence in conversations is often uncomfortable. So, we move quickly to fill the void. But as leaders should we?
Perhaps, the better approach is allow the conversation to simply settle for a moment. This encourages others to fill the space while we wait patiently for them to do so.
A leader can learn a lot of interesting things by not jumping in too quickly when silence occurs. Think of yourself as a master detective, waiting for the other party to confess. Of course, a confession in this case means more candid remarks and unfiltered views. Let silence do its work.
Clean your glasses (if you have them) like the famous fictional detective George Smiley does, or perhaps you might knit while you listen, like Miss Jane Marple, or play solitaire chess while waiting for the other to speak, like detective Phillip Marlowe.
Presidential biographer and master interviewer Robert Caro writes the initials “SU” in his notebook when an interviewee becomes silent. Those initials stand for “Shut Up” and reminds Caro to let the other person fill in the empty space, less he lose an interesting response or insight.
Silence shouldn’t always be broken by leaders. We can learn so much by waiting for others to speak.