An under-used communication device is the Pause. Try adding several of these to your day and see what changes. You may experience more effective communication.
What’s the Pause Button
You know the pause button on your musical or video devices as you use them all the time. Well, amazing as it might seem, there is the ability to press pause on our speaking, too! Although we don’t use it much, we have the capacity to self-regulate, to pause.
Reasons to Pause
Why do we “hit the pause button”? To take a moment. For example, one might pause their tv show or movie to go get a snack or head to the bathroom. When we need a break and don’t want to miss anything, we pause, which allows us to do what we need and then resume. Another reason is if you are paying attention to one thing and something else needs your immediate attention. You pause the first thing, deal with the interruption, and then get back to what you were doing. Then, and this is a biggie……, we can pause to reflect. WHAT? Take some time to think? To consider? To examine? To let yourself feel? Always a great idea when dealing with others, as it allows for more effective communication.
“It’s OK to be quiet, spacious, even silent. OK to take some time to let things air out and take more shape before you respond. Even if your deep-down view is that this idea is insane, disastrous, or worse – often you don’t have to say anything at all and it will collapse on its own.” – Rick Hanson, PhD (Buddha’s Brain)
Listen in the Pause
To be truly listening to somebody, something that is very important in effective communication, you can’t be composing your response while the other person is talking. Funnily enough, this is what most of us do most of the time. It is ok to have a break between when one person speaks and the next begins – radical, right? This pause allows us to listen fully and then take the moments to compose what we will say,. One thing at a time.
Pause to think. As much as we love to believe we can multitask, we cannot. Thinking and talking are attempts to multi-task, and thinking usually loses the tug-of-war. Then, we get to have those repressed thoughts at 3am when we should be sleeping.
Eek! Feels uncomfortable – all that silence! That can’t possibly be effective communication?! Facilitators use the 10 second rule. A question is asked to a group and there is no immediate response. It can feel uncomfortable and when we are uncomfortable we tend to want to fill that silence. Instead, breathe and count to 10 silently. It is 10 seconds of quiet – not the end of the world. 10 seconds is enough time for people to either think and come up with something, or to become uncomfortable enough with the silence to say something and then others will speak. Anything much beyond 10 seconds and it gets tooooo uncomfortable and then nobody will speak, so it is a balancing act.
Coaches know the benefit of a good, long pause. Just as you cannot make a superb sauce or stew instantaneously, thoughts and ideas need to meld together, be stirred gently, and tested now and then for readiness.
Now they are Pausing! What’s up?
What about when the other person pauses? Well, then, what if they are thinking or even (gasp) listening? A pause from the other is good, because it most likely means they are reflecting. If we fill up the other person’s pause with our own chatter, they might never access their own thought, which could have been the insight or idea that was vital, innovative, creative. How many times have you been in conversation when somebody overrides or interrupts, and when it gets back to the interrupted person’s turn, they’ve completely forgotten what they were going to say? We don’t forget these things because they aren’t important – which is what we say to make us and the other feel better. What if it WAS important?
Have you ever made a decision and upon further reflection you make a change? Of course you have. Have you heard of the phrase “Sober second thought”? It’s one of the dangers of Group-Think, that everybody goes down the same path with no time or energy for dissent. In a less rushed world, groups would reconfirm their decisions once they’ve had a chance to reflect, which is truly effective communication! Longer pauses are great and we can use the shorter ones for the same purposes.
Why the pause can be perceived as a Threat
- We want to “keep the floor” or “hold onto the talking stick”. If we continue talking, we continue being in control. I read once that this a reason we use those filler words like um, ah, uh and so. These filler words give the impression that we are not finished talking, so we don’t give control of the conversation over to the other person.
- If somebody else pauses, we can see it as a rejection or a threat. What if they are about to disagree? Say they thought what we said was wrong/stupid? Better to keep talking and respond to what they haven’t said than actually hear what they might say.
- Fear of looking unprepared or unintelligent. If we do not have a ready response it will indicate we are lacking answers, and we must have an answer for everything.
- Belief that a pause from the other means we weren’t clear, so we jump in to clarify – endlessly.
- The pause can feel like a hesitation
Benefits of the Pause
- Space and time to think
- Being polite and truly listening to one another
- Letting first thoughts simmer to see if something else comes up
- Less embarrassing about saving face when you need to admit something was a rushed decision, bad idea, etc.
- Slowing things down, and that means less stress and pressure
Try it. If you need to, give people some idea what you’re doing. Hmmm you say, let me think about that a second, then take 10! Push the envelope.
“Why are you so petrified of silence? Here can you handle this……………………………………………..” (Silence inserted) – Alanis Morrissette
Rosalie Boulter is an ICF Certified Coach who gets pleasure out of helping Leaders bring forward the best in themselves and then the best in those they lead. Connect with the team at Paradigm Shifters to see all the nifty things we do.