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Leadership Digital

Being Quiet


“Wise men, when in doubt whether to speak or to keep quiet, give themselves the benefit of the doubt, and remain silent.” ~ Napoleon Hill


Many of us are continually re-learning the wisdom that tells us when it’s important to stay quiet. Yet that is what important conversations should strive for – lots of pauses and silence ripe with thought and ideas. I understand that there is a discomfort in silence in our noisy world. However, silence it’s also one of your most important leadership tools.

Aside from the wisdom of Napoleon Hill in the quote above, there are other times when keeping quiet is the best response you can make to someone:

When someone else is talking: It goes without saying that many of us can get better at allowing another person to have their say. Don’t interrupt. Wait for a pause in the conversation before you speak.

When it’s important to hear other’s viewpoints: Just at that time when you disagree with someone’s ideas or views and want to counterpoint with speaking your mind is the best time to stay quiet and hear others out. When there is conflict, there is a better chance of resolution of differences when you don’t talk or judge and switch into deep listening mode. It’s hard, but it’s the right time to stay silent.

When someone is emotionally distraught: You may not know the right thing to do when someone is sad, upset, or even crying; many of us get uncomfortable at these times. Staying quiet is always acceptable in this case. In such times, people most often want to be heard and to have someone close by. It’s that simple.

When you don’t want to dominate a conversation: It’s a good time to hold off on your ideas and opinions when people are brainstorming, offering suggestions or being creative. Dominating the conversation with your ideas can shut off the flow of fresh ideas.

When you are thinking together: Have you ever noticed that when a group is having a great conversation with everyone engaged and offering their thoughts, that silence often occurs? Don’t fill in those gaps in the conversation! Silence, in this case, is the best thing that you can allow to happen for those great conversations to continue. It means people are thinking (exactly what you want them to do!).

The art of knowing when to be quiet (and then doing it) should be a part of every leader’s tool set. What other times have you noticed that a leader’s silence is important?

23 Responses to “Being Quiet”

  • When my wife is talking silence is important….great article, thank you and have a great day.

  • Hi Mary Jo:

    I enjoyed your observations on the importance of listening. I thought you might be interested in a piece I authored a while back offering some additional insights on the same topic:

  • Maryanne:

    Excellent points on effective listening….

  • When negotiating, sometimes silence is necessary.

    – You will allow your counterpart to reflect

    – You will show respect

    – You will give him the benefit of rethinking without confrontation which can be the only wait out in a deadlock.

    – You will not feed your counterpart with more argumnents that may work against you.

  • Rick:

    Silence is underrated. Thank you for the reminder, great article. I’m glad I found your site.

  • jeanne Huddle:

    How do I get my free e-book?

  • There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth! We need to listen twice as much as we speak, the world would be a better place.

  • Clint:

    There is a reason why we were created with 2 ears and one mouth….to listen twice as much as you speak!!!!!

  • Sheila:

    I have found that if what I want to add is only self-promoting, staying silent is always a better answer.

  • Al:

    I know both from reading and experience that this is the right thing to do but find that when I hold my tongue and wait for the conversation to take a lull before responding that I will often forget or lose the wording for my response. This is especially true when people are making a point that tunrs out to be multiple points and I want to respond to point number 2 of 10. Is it worng to jot down notes?

  • Hi Herman, glad you’ve realized the importance of listening to your wife. :)

  • Mike, thanks for stopping by and offering the link to your wonderful post. I honestly believe that there are more failures in leadership due to lack of listening than for almost any other reason.

  • Jeanne, if you ‘ve signed up for it, you simply have to wait 24 hourse for it to come in your email. Thanks for subscribing!

  • Sheila, what great advice and food for thought. Thanks! I hadn’t thought of that.

  • Al, you might want to note Sheila’s response. Is it really that important for you to speak?

  • LT:

    Excellent list. St. Augustine said “patience (related to silence)is the companion of wisdom. However, silence is often misinterpreted, but never misquoted. Therefore, know when to speak up.

  • LT, how wise. Love the sentiment that silence can’t be misquoted. Thanks for that addition to the conversation.

  • blue bull:

    Silence is part of the music… but silence alone is no sweet song. The points above are spot on. I would go further and add to this template, ’empathy’, ‘balance’ and ‘timing’. Silence is powerful but there are times to speak up to ensure your own input is not marginalised. At other times the ‘word’ rather than the ‘paragraph’ does the trick. I look foward to the more complete article; ” When to speak, what to say, how to deliver it”. Empower the less confident who have just as many thoughts but we never step out to deliver… or when they do deliver cannot articulte or worse still tend to marinate us in noise.

  • Blue Bull, you’ve proposed the outline of a book; very difficult to get all topics into 500 words or less. You might read past posts on this site for what you are looking for…..I have written many articles about similar topics you suggest, and they are very good ones, so thanks.

  • Al C:

    Great Points on the value of silence.

    In negotiating, silence is golden – after all points, conditions have been laid out on both sides, “He who speaks first loses…”

    Second age old wisdom, “It is best to sit silently and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”

    Al C

  • Al C – Thanks for the wisdom!

  • SammyP:

    Great piece and great comments too! May I add this?
    “Never miss a good opportunity to shut up”
    — possibly attributed to Mark Twain, or Ben Franklin (it’s usually one those two, isn’t it?)

  • mllp:

    I agree so much, that I almost didn’t write this comment. :)

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Mary Jo Asmus
Mary Jo
A former executive in a Fortune 100 company, I own and operate a leadership solutions firm called Aspire Collaborative Services. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. I am married, have two daughters, and a dog named Edgar the Leadership Pug who exemplifies the importance of relationships to great leadership.
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