I am a loud mouth, I will be the first to admit it. In fact, I have a beautiful voice if I do say so myself.
I just love hearing myself talk! That’s why I love public speaking so much! I get to sit there and talk for 45min-1 hour all by myself, uninterrupted!
But, believe it or not, this is actually a detriment to normal conversations.
In fact, one of the most powerful tools in casual conversation (or a serious conversation for that matter) is silence. If you know when and how to utilize silence in a conversation, it will elevate every relationship, friendship, and interaction you have for the rest of your life.
That’s why I put together this article, with the Top 5 benefits that well-timed silence adds to conversations (notice I said top 5… there are a lot more!)1. Silence Makes You Appear Confident
1. Silence Makes You Appear Confident
In casual conversation, most people seek to fill any silence. This is effectively why ‘small talk’ is a thing (there are actually benefits to small talk by the way, but we will get into that at some other time…).
We do this because we naturally think that any silence is awkward silence, especially early on, getting to know someone or when meeting someone new. It’s in these situations, meeting new people, in new relationships, in young friendships, that just keeping quiet really stands out.
Most people create small talk because they’re afraid of that silence. They don’t want it to be awkward, so they fill the void. When you don’t do this, it stands out.
People don’t consciously think, “Wow, she is totally comfortable with silence, she must be really comfortable with herself. I wish I had that kind of confidence!” But on a subconscious level, that is the actual effect.
This doesn’t mean that you should never talk, it just means that you shouldn’t talk just to fill the silence. Teach yourself that silence is not a bad thing and that it’s ok not to fill that void just because it’s there. The result this has on the way people perceive you is amazing. This alone has gotten me job offers (which would be really cool if I was looking for a job!)
2. Silence Creates Instance Closeness With Others
I want you to do me a favor, and stop reading for a second. Before you continue on with this article, just stop and spend 5 minutes writing down a list for me.
A list? Yeah, I like lists.
Take 5 minutes and write down a list of every person with whom you have spent more than 1 hour within the last week. I am talking real quality time. People you have had prolonged conversations with, not just the people next to you in co-working spaces. Make it a list of all people you actually put time in with this last week (Just do the best that you can).
Have you done it? Why not? I’m not going anywhere, go do it! I can wait. Done? Good.
Now, I want you to look at that list, and circle every person with whom you had at least 10 minutes of solid silence around within the last week.
Again, I will wait. 🙂
Ok, now just look at the circled names. I don’t know you, your friends, family, peers, or anybody on that list (probably). But here is something I do know:
If you are being honest with yourself, the people whose names are circled on that list are the people you care about most and are closest with. Shocking right!
How do I know that?
I promise I’m not a magician. In fact, Pulp Fiction got this principle down about the same time my parents got married! MIA: Don’t you hate that?
MIA: Don’t you hate that?
MIA: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bull**** in order to be comfortable?
VINCENT: I don’t know.
MIA: That’s when you know you found somebody special. When you can just shut the f*** up for a minute, and comfortably share silence.
VINCENT: I don’t think we’re there yet. But don’t feel bad, we just met each other.I could not explain it better myself. People are only willing to accept silence when they are truly comfortable with the people they are around (Mia’s point).
I couldn’t explain it better myself. People are only willing to accept silence when they’re truly comfortable with the people they’re around (Mia’s point). This comfortability generally comes with time (Vincent’s point).
Lucky for us, it doesn’t actually need time. If you start acting the way you do around close friends with anybody, they naturally start treating you like a close friend. That’s so important it’s going to be repeated:
If you start acting the way you do around close friends with anybody, they naturally start treating you like a close friend.
This is true in all aspects of life, but in reference to this article, if you can teach yourself to be comfortable with silence around people, they will naturally become more comfortable with you – they’ll even start to consider you as a closer friend as a result
3. Silence Allows the Other Person to Go Deeper
Here’s what you do: When someone is sharing something about themselves, or telling a story, or otherwise talking, you:
- Look engaged
- Nod and agree when appropriate
- Maintain eye contact
- Don’t say anything
Then, when they stop talking you:Look engaged
- Look engaged
- Nod and agree when appropriate
- Maintain eye contact
- Don’t say anything
When it’s clear that you’re engaged and care, but you don’t say anything, they’ll naturally go deeper. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense, especially considering that most people try to fill the empty void that is silence.
They will either go deeper because they had more to say but felt socially obligated to give you a chance to speak (something we all tend to do when we feel like we have been talking too much)
Or they’ll go deeper because you gave them a void to fill. Either way, they go deeper.
That’s why I tell people that often times silence is the best question. It tends to open people up better than any question ever could.
Last night I had a campfire with some friends and family. At one point everyone had gone to bed except myself and one of my friends. So I started telling her a story about a family friend who passed away a few years ago. This is a common story that I share with people around campfires because the last time I saw him was around a campfire.
But she did something different than most people I tell that story to. When my story ended she:
- Looked engaged
- Nodded and agreed when appropriate
- Maintained eye contact
- Didn’t say anything
So I dug deeper. I somehow found myself sharing with her the drug addictions in my family, and how they affected me and the choices I make… Something I don’t really share with people.
So you can trust me when I tell you this works!
4. Silence Gives Them Time to Think and Switch Topics if Need be
A few weeks ago at church, I asked one of my good friends what she thought about the service.
She started telling me her thoughts and I was being a very good active listener: Nodding along, making remarks when appropriate, but just letting her share.
At one point I said, “Interesting.” And she stopped her thought process and asked me, “Why is that interesting?”
Since I was just being an active listener, I hadn’t actually put thought into my word choice, it was just intended to allow her permission to keep speaking…
So I thought about it and told her, “I don’t completely agree.” I felt stuck in a bad spot, I didn’t want to discredit her opinions, I wanted to listen to her thoughts. But she pushed me to explain my thinking.
So I did, and it was obvious that what I said upset her….
So then I tried to backpedal for about 5 minutes, effectively digging myself a hole until she got so upset at me that she just left. The result of this conversation was that I felt forced to have a conversation that I didn’t want to have, and she felt unheard and de-validated. Completely my fault.
In the moment I forgot about the most valuable tool in my conversational tool box: Silence. At any point after she asked me, “Why is that interesting?” I should have simply stopped talking. When I saw she was uncomfortable, rather than trying to ‘fix’ things, I should have simply stopped talking.
This would have given her the space to change topics so that she didn’t feel uncomfortable. It really is that simple – silence gives people the space to decide where THEY want to take a conversation.
5. Silence Makes You Seem Like You Care a Lot More
Spoiler alert: I’m about to get into a concept that we’re all subconsciously aware of, but most people are not willing to admit to themselves.
In most conversations, we don’t actually listen for the sake of listening. We listen for a pause so that we can speak. If you’re being fully honest with yourself, that is how you have most of your conversations.
One of the things I talk about with most of my clients is how to stop listening for the pause and start listening for the words. The effect of not listening for a pause is that you don’t have a prepared response when they stop talking. So when it is your turn, you have to think about what to say, which creates a moment of silence while you’re thinking about a response.
Even if you do know what you want to say, teaching yourself to take that pause when your conversation partner finishes speaking has the same effect on their perspective of you. From their point of view, you appear more engaged in what they’re saying, more sincere, and like you care a lot more about them than if you seem like you’re just listening for a pause. Again, this is not something most people consciously notice, but it is something that people notice.
So, it doesn’t actually matter how much you care. If you are literally hanging onto every word, but you respond as soon as they take a breath, you don’t seem like you care nearly as much. When people think you care more about them, they naturally care more about you. The added benefit of this is a much deeper friendship/relationship almost instantly.Recap:
- Makes you appear confident
- Builds Closeness
- Allows the other person to go deeper
- Gives them time to think and switch topics if need be
- Makes you seem like you care a lot more
I’ll leave you with this:
“A Good Conversation is worth the world and if I can I will stop the world to have one… and even when I can’t I still try.”
Guest post by: Devin Tracy
Hi, I’m Devin Tracy!
Growing up, I had a bad speech impediment, and as a result, I had to take special education courses throughout my school years. These experiences made me uncomfortable in social settings and made it difficult for me to connect with my peers.
Compounding the issue, I also had social anxieties and suffer from panic attacks, passed down to me through my family.
I knew I had a choice: I could either use these issues as a crutch to justify my shyness, or I could kill the crutch and turn my disadvantage into my greatest asset. Not one to quit, I now act as a guide, helping others kill their crutches as well.