Why your silence is important

When you’re in conversation do you enjoy moments of silence? Or do you find it uncomfortable and jump in to fill the space?

Silence leaves room for thinking and reflection. It can give the other person time to consider their reply. It can help to build trust, confidence and (somewhat counterintuitively) rapport. It can also be helpful for creativity and problem solving as leaving space can help us dig deeper and come up with our own creative solutions rather than rushing for the first obvious idea.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of chatting on a Lucidity Network webinar with Katie Colombus, assistant director of communications at Samaritans and author of How to Listen’ . One of our discussion points was the value of silence. Here’s my key take-aways from the webinar;

  • If, as a listener you fill the silence and jump in with solutions instead of listening and asking questions that help the person come to a solution, you are disempowering them and implying that they can’t find the solution themselves. So even when it comes from a place of wanting to help, you’re actually doing the opposite. Leaving silence is important in empowering people to find their own solutions.
  • Rather than jumping in to ‘fix’ something, leave silence. Let the person think and reflect. You might then ask some open questions (a question that can’t be answered with a yes or a no) to encourage a conversation. For example, ‘How did you feel about that?’ or ‘Tell me what you thought of that?’ or ‘What did that mean for the situation?’
  • If you find it difficult to leave silence, have a go at setting yourself silence targets. For example, at your next meeting you might set yourself the target of not filling any silences, if you’re a manager, at your next 1:1 with members of your team, set a target to only ask open questions and don’t ‘fix’ anything.
  • Start to notice when you want to jump in and do something else instead, for example, count to 5, or take several deep breaths, or my personal favourite (thank you Vanessa Longley) is to pop a Rolo in your mouth (other sweets allowed) and don’t speak until you’ve finished it.

I’d love to hear your thought and tips on listening and silence.

If you’d like to watch the reply of the ‘How to be brilliant at listening’ webinar you can watch it at the Lucidity Network.

The Lucidity Network is a membership community and is for you if you want to take charge of your own learning and development and be happy and more productive in your working life. When you join you get access to practical content, including webinars and training packs, brilliant people who are experts in topics that will help you find your success. We’ve training materials on over 30 topics in the learning vault including; listening skills, how to be productive, strategic thinking, storytelling, learning from failure, having difficult conversations and managing up. All the details on how to join are here.

Are you a good listener?

Are you a good listener? Have you ever felt the frustration of not being listened to though? Perhaps the other person wasn’t paying full attention or maybe they cut you off mid flow, talked over you or rushed in to tell you their solution?

The skill of listening is so important, yet so underrated and often not performed well. There are many reasons why we don’t listen very well. In the cut and thrust of daily life, we might simply forget to show how much we care or to give one another the time and space that lead to better conversations. Or, when we’re under pressure to get through an epic ‘to do’ list, we immediately want to jump in and fix a problem and move on, rather than focusing on being a good listener and encouraging and supporting the other person to learn and grow by working through it themself.

Sometimes, we interrupt rather than listen because we want to be heard ourselves, to talk about when something similar happened to us or explore our own feelings, opinions and experiences. Interruptions are often made with the intention of giving good advice, but sometimes can leave the other person feeling disconnected, undervalued or that their views are not important. It’s good to talk. It’s even better to listen.

When working remotely we lack real-life connections, and feelings of uncertainty can raise anxiety levels. That’s why good listening skills are particularly important now. Making a deliberate point of finding space to really listen to colleagues, friends and family will make an impact on their health and wellbeing as well as their motivation and productivity at work.

Giving someone a safe space to talk and letting them know you’re listening with empathy and without judgment can allow them to let off steam, explore their feelings and make decisions about the best course of action.

We’ve been doing some work with the excellent Katie Colombus, assistant director of communications at Samaritans and author of ‘How to Listen’. 

Here’s three tips to focus your listening skills.

  1. You don’t have to fix things. Good listening isn’t about fixing someone’s problems or giving advice. You don’t need to make it better for the person; you just need to be there alongside them, to listen, and share the weight of what they’re telling you. A huge part of being a better listener is simply recognising that the person speaking doesn’t need any more from you than that. Just pay close attention and keep the conversation going, letting the person talk through all their options until there’s nothing left to say
  2. Hold back on giving advice. Don’t say things like ‘ perhaps you could…’, ‘have you tried…’ or ‘maybe you should…’. By trying to fix a problem rather than simply listening and accepting it for what it is, you might be inadvertently implying to that person that they can’t sort out their own issue for themselves. This can then feed into the already spiralling negative thought loop that they’re not good enough, lacking confidence or can’t cope. Jumping into solutions isn’t always helpful, particularly when there’s more going on for someone and it’s affecting their emotional wellbeing.
  3. It’s about them, not you. Hold back on telling your story of when you were in a similar situation. Listening isn’t about you. It’s about them. You might think you’re being helpful by showing empathy through sharing your similar experience, however if you do this, the person speaking is more likely to feel that you think your experience is more important than theirs which has the effect of feeling not listened to, disconnected or undervalued.

Thank you Katie Colombus for the inspiration and co-writing this blog. 

If you’d like to learn more about listening skills, join Lucy Gower and Katie Colombus, assistant director of communications at Samaritans and author of ‘How to Listen’ on 25 March at 12.30 for a Lucidity Network webinar on how to be a brilliant listener. Join live to ask your questions. Here’s your link to sign up. Hurry as places are limited.