“Let silence do the heavy lifting.” — Susan Scott

Lauren Owen quoted this in “10 Ways to Avoid Death by Meetings,” suggesting we “give people some time to respond. As we tell clients: ‘Let silence do the heavy lifting.’ You are not hosting a radio show. You don’t need to fill every minute with your pearls of wisdom. It’s ok to have dead air. Sometimes people need time to form their thoughts before they commit to speak.”

A couple decades ago, I learned of a study on teacher questioning. It concluded that when teachers asked questions, it took most students about twenty seconds to hear and process the question, answer it internally, decide whether to express it, and raise a hand. And the study also showed that teachers allowed–two seconds! So the advice to allow three to five seconds sounds magnanimous, but isn’t. Even knowing that, I can still get impatient or doubt the effectiveness of my questions and start rephrasing them before the clock ticks twice.

So what if we allow others some processing time?

And what if we allow our own minds a few more seconds? Days? Years? Allowing rest periods for incubation is vital to the creative process. Don’t assume that silence is a block. Relax. Listen. Breathe. Wait. “Let silence do the heavy lifting.”

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011

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