Magazine article Work & Family Life

The Phenomenal Power of the Pause

Magazine article Work & Family Life

The Phenomenal Power of the Pause

Article excerpt

Much of the speaking that we do at the workplace has a singular purpose, and that is to influence others. We want people to hear and appreciate our ideas and to support us in one way or another.

For our spoken words to be most effective, there's something very basic that we can all learn to do better-and that is how and when to pause.

At our communication workshops, getting people to pause- to just stop talking-is where we get the most resistance initially. But by the end of a session, participants often tell us that learning to pause was the biggest "aha" moment they experienced.

Why we don't pause

People speak at different speeds, and this is not about learning to speak more slowly. It's about how much more effective you can be when you master the pause.

We've heard lots of reasons why speakers don't pause when they should or could. Here's what they have told us:

* I don't have all day. I have a limited amount of time in which to make my points.

Yes, we live in a fast-paced world and we're all in a hurry. But we're talking about a few seconds here and there. Well-placed pauses will give the person or group you're addressing a chance to digest your message. Otherwise, it can feel like a verbal onslaught.

* I'll be interrupted.

Interrupting can be a personal tic for some. But the main reason people interrupt is that they have stopped listening to what you are saying. They're waiting for that moment when you take a breath, and will use it as an opportunity to interrupt.

* People will misinterpret my pause. They'll think I'm unsure of my subject.

Actually, the reverse is more likely the case. For people to see us as knowledgeable, we need to give them time to think.

* I'll lose my train of thought. I'll look like a deer caught in headlights.

No, you won't. Most of us speak at an average of about 125 words a minute, but we think much faster. Your mind will work for you when you pause.

* Silence feels a little scary.

This is a common fear that comes from all the reasons we just identified. Look at it this way: When someone rattles on without pausing, it can sound like mind-numbing white noise that can put you to sleep. And that's the silence we should be more afraid of.

Benefits are immediate

When the participants in our workshops first start to practice pausing, their resistance fades quickly because they feel the benefits right away. Here's what they have said:

* I used the pauses to gather my thoughts. …

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