The power of pause - knowing when to shut up

There has been a lot of discussion in our offices recently about the value of listening in effective communication.

It sounds obvious, but a great many of us are so intent on what we’re trying to convey during an exchange that we generally concentrate more on our own words than the words of the person with whom we’re conversing.

The experts tell us we retain, at most, around 25% of what we hear, which is possibly understandable given the volume of information we’re exposed to these days, but it isn’t terribly helpful if we’re trying to be effective communicators.


The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success. James Cash Penney


One very effective way of becoming a better listener is to practice active listening - repeating key phrases back, or asking for clarity around something your interlocutor has said. This is a skill which, if practised properly, helps the information you’re receiving better lodge in your brain, and it has added the advantage of letting the person with whom you’re conversing relax in the knowledge that you’re paying them due attention. They may open up more than they would have otherwise.

The other side of this though, is simply knowing when to pause - when to close your mouth and stem the flow of words. You may well feel that if you just keep going you’ll eventually make your point crystal clear...but remember, the statistic about retaining a maximum of 25% of what you hear works both ways. Just because you’re pouring out more words does not mean the other person is actually processing them.


Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute. Josh Billings


There are endless benefits of knowing when to employ a judicious silence:

  • The "nature abhors a vacuum" argument - If you are at an awkward point in a conversation and are suddenly silent the person with whom you’re talking will probably, naturally, step in to fill the void. You may learn something useful that will ultimately make the conversation more constructive
  • It can demonstrate respect
  • It can stop you boring your audience to tears by continuing to talk when you have nothing left to say
  • It can stop you saying something you later regret
  • It gives you time to think, to actually choose what you want to say next with a level of discernment
  • It allows you to focus not only on what the other person is saying but on their facial expressions and body language, which are arguable of greater value than their words

It's hard to think of any workplace conversation in which careful listening and discriminating silence wouldn't be effective: client and supplier negotiations, internal meetings, staff reviews, interviews (whether you are the interviewer or interviewee) and everything else.

Obviously this is not something relevant only to work situations; it’s just as important to listen and to know when to be silent in personal relationships.

Moreover, these are techniques that ought to be a central part of your social media marketing strategy - which, if practised correctly, is just another form of conversation. Knowing when to stop simply shouting about your own services and products, and take the time to 'listen', to study the reaction to your output and to carefully consider how to respond to your audience and any feedback or concerns they might be expressing is, possibly, the most important part of any online social engagement.

Like this? You may also like

Who we are

Impartial digital experts in business for 20 years.