Using silence as your strategic edge


Nature teaches us how silence allows all voices to come forth naturally and in their own time. If you’ve ever walked in a wooded area that isn’t tainted by the everyday sounds of voices, cars, booming music, and machinery, you might hear what I mean. The voices of nature come through loud and clear: the chatter of a squirrel; the wind rustling the leaves above your head; a scurrying in the litter by your feet, the sound of a woodpecker rat-a-tat-tatting on a tree; the sound of crickets and an owl at night. Listen carefully, and you’ll notice that each of these sounds is distinct, with some silence between the sounds. There isn’t competition to be heard yet the sounds come when they should and stay silent when they must.

Unlike woodlands, our workplaces are some of the biggest offenders of too much noise. There is continual hustle, distractions, and competition to be heard while the vast majority of the inhabitants use their voices as a strategy to stand out amongst the ruckus while only contributing to the noise.

If you really want to be heard, you might consider silence as your strategic edge. While everyone else is escalating their voices, just listen. Instead of saying it, shouting it, increasing the volume – use silence. The oddest thing happens when you do this. Somehow nobody misses what you didn’t say. Yet when you strategically place your words into the conversation at the right time, heads will turn and ears will listen.

If you’ve noticed that your words aren’t landing and your voice isn’t being heard, begin to use silence in this way:

Be intentional: Before each meeting spend some time considering when it might make sense for you to speak up. What do you have to say about the subject at hand? What unique value might you add to the conversation? How might strategic silence be your ally in this meeting?

Hold back: When the cacophony of voices is clamoring to find their place in the discussion, hold back. Chances are that you won’t be heard when everyone else is talking anyway. You might be bursting at the seams to say what you need to say, but instead of allowing the sounds to reach your lips, put them to paper instead. The act of writing them down may be enough to keep your mouth closed.

Listen instead: To tame all the chattering in your brain, return to listening to those who are speaking. When your mouth wants to open, open your ears instead. When your mind is churning to find the next words to speak, listen deeper. Wait until you can speak to impart wisdom, impact, or influence.

Speak only when it’s important: Speak only when you can add value to the discussion, when you have something to say that nobody else can say. Express unique viewpoints with clarity and brevity. Notice the impact in the room (do heads turn to hear what you have to say in a way they haven’t before? Does the conversation take a different turn? Do the people in the room ask questions, wanting to hear more?).

When you use silence strategically your words can make an impact. Have you ever noticed that the more someone speaks, the less others listen? Here’s your chance to be heard. Incorporate more silence into your leadership and watch your impact and influence increase.

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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