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You’ll find the 20% of leadership information that produces 80% of leadership results in this newsletter. This is well-researched leadership information that, when consistently implemented, will produce bottom-line results.

Silence: A Leadership Tool

  • A client challenges us and questions our expertise
  • An employee makes a mistake, after we specifically told them what to do

We spend a great deal of time learning leadership communication skills. We learn what to say and how to say it, and this is time well spent. Adding one more tool, the strategic use of silence, enhances our ability to lead well. Silence, even a brief one, gives us the opportunity to regulate our emotions, allows others to figure things out for themselves and reduces the likelihood that we will talk our way into trouble.

Emotional Regulation

Emotions happen. Mental and physical reactions happen. A brief silence provides the time to master the emotion and respond professionally. In the above example, when a client challenges us, we’re likely to respond physically as if the words were a threat to our physical safety. In other words, our brain goes into the “I’m under attack” mode. A brief silence helps by:
  • Allowing the attack response chemicals in our brain to subside
  • Creating space during which we can label the emotion
  • Reengaging the thinking brain which can then take a more appropriate action

If you’re concerned about a long, uncomfortable silence, that need not be. As you master this skill, it can become a pause so brief as to be unnoticeable. Step two, labeling the emotion is a critical component. The very act of naming is the step back into a thinking response. Neither ignoring nor suppressing the emotion works because our face, no matter how well we thing we control it, shows micro expressions that others easily read. The simple act of saying, to one’s self, “I feel, angry, frustrated, embarrassed (whatever emotion is applicable)” moves the brain away from the emotion itself and toward a logical assessment of the situation.

Telling Isn’t Leadership

If you’re frustrated because you’ve repeatedly told an employee how to do something and they’re still not getting it, you may be causing your own frustration. Telling someone how to do something does not create the kind of brain response that will cause the information to stick. When you want information to stick, lead the person to discover it on their own and then immediately use the discovery. The very act of self-discovery releases brain chemicals that create a “feel-good” response and energy. When a person feels good and has energy, they are more likely to do what you want and remember it as well.

The next time you work with the person, rather than giving direction, ask them about the work, be silent, and listen carefully. Silence and listening give you the tools to ask the next question leading the person down the path of solving the problem themselves.

These are only two of many situations in which silence makes us better leaders. In what situations would silence serve you better as a leader?

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