The popular idiom says the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but if you really want to increase the potency of your voice, silence can be a powerful tool. Entrepreneur Daniel Tenner explains.
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From my father's blog on wisdom:
If you have a gift with words, learn to keep your mouth shut; when you speak, punctuate with pause; and when you have nothing to say, say nothing.
Your silence passes many messages; one is that you are somebody, not nobody, a person able to face a crowd and to wait. This is an almost biological power of the big secure animal looking at harmless ones. People understand or better said they feel. After this, you have a better chance to be listened to.
Silence has tremendous applications in the business world too, of course.
For me, the "aha" moment about silence came when I was working on my first startup, while still working full time as a consultant in Accenture. I was sleeping about four hours a night for nine months, and so I was constantly tired. At the time I was managing a small team of people who often did not get along. So, every once in a while, I would have to set up meetings with me and two other people to resolve their conflict and keep the project moving forward.
Because I was so tired, I spent most of my time in the meetings quiet, minimising even physical movement. I would sit and listen and let the meeting go its way until I came to a moment where I felt that if I did not say something — the right thing — just at that moment, with just the right body language to support it, things would go wrong sooner or later and I would have to pay with even more tiresome activity.
I wasn't scared of being "found out" for doing the bare minimum in meetings. I was starting my first business and I believed I would be out of the corporate world soon (and I was). But I noticed something very strange. Because I talked so rarely, every time I spoke, people stopped talking and took the time to listen to me. By doing much, much less, I had somehow given the little that I did do a lot more weight.
Since then, I've used silence in many other contexts. It can be a very useful tool for sales, for example: when you're trying to close a sale, at one point you need to state your pitch, with the price, and then just shut up. If you keep talking, you will only distract the customer from evaluating the pitch and coming to a decision.
In person-to-person conversations, few people can stand a prolonged silence, particularly when it follows a certain kind of statement. "I don't know what I can do to solve X," followed by silence, will often pull suggestions for solving X out of someone who would not have volunteered them for "how should I solve X?"
Learn to use silence. It is a powerful tool in many contexts.
Daniel Tenner is the founder of several companies, including GrantTree (which helps UK companies get government funding) and Woobius (a collaboration tool for architects.) This article was originally published on swombat.com, which regularly publishes articles for startup founders.