We have talked about many effective communication techniques on our Teamwork and Leadership blog over the last four years. But there is one you might not ever traditionally think about when it comes to effective communication skills.
Awhile back I shared a cartoon on our Facebook Teamwork and Leadership page which showed a large orange fish who is about to take the bait off a fishing line and hook. The caption read: “Sometimes it pays to keep your mouth shut.”
Sometime it pays for all of us to keep our mouths shut. This includes leaders. It is important to point out that effective communication techniques also include silence.
I have attended my share of communication classes and read my share of communication books, but I don’t remember learning much in the way of keeping my mouth shut except when talking about active listening.
Here are three situations in which silence is golden and it pays to be quiet.
1. Solving Someones Problems. Personally I am a fixer. When there is a problem my inclination is to solve it immediately. In my marriage I have a tendency sometimes to want to fix my wife’s problems as well. After I am done with what I think is a good solution, she usually says something like, “Honey, I don’t need you to solve my problem, I just need you to listen.” I am getting better.
As leaders we can be eager to jump in and solve problems as well and demonstrate what we know. Many times it is best to let those we lead solve the problem so they can learn.
I was in the airport this last weekend with two of my sons. I figured it was time to teach my 13-year-old son how to find his way around the airport which included reading the departure monitor and getting us to our gate on time. When he was stuck I could have easily jumped in and solved it for him, but I instead let him figure it out. As a result he was able to learn much quicker. On our return trip he had mastered it!
While we need to provide support, and be there to listen, we don’t always need to solve the problem.
2. Asking a Question. Silence can feel uncomfortable at times. However, it can be golden. Have you ever been in a team meeting, for example, when a question was asked and before you could even begin to process an answer the team leader or facilitator jumped in and answered it?
I truly let silence work for me. It is probably one of my most effective communication techniques in a meeting or when doing training. Each of us needs time to process a question when asked.
Instead of making a comment like: “Wow, lively group this morning,” five seconds after you ask the question; try not saying anything. Eventually someone will provide an answer or make a comment. Let silence do its magic.
3. Becoming Emotional. Beware of blurting out an impulsive response when you feel angry, hurt or frustrated. See the following postings for tips: “Ever Heard of the ’24 Hour Rule?’ 3 Anger Management Tips,” “How to Deal with Rude People – 5 Lessons for Leaders and Others,” and “Practical Suggestions – How Leaders Can Keep Their Cool During Conflict.”
My experience has been that the worst time to comment is when we feel like commenting the most. Instead of replying when we are upset, it is better to sit on it, rest on it or leave it.
Question: Would you consider keeping your mouth shut to be one of your most effective communication techniques? What other situations would it be a good idea to keep your mouth shut?
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