Pause for thought

30 January 2019  |  Rich M

Communication is about reception, not transmission

Do you process information when others are talking or when they pause?

As listeners, we need short periods of silence in conversation to reflect on what’s just been said. Sometimes this takes a mere moment, other times a little longer. The response the listener gives – usually a nod or “yes” – confirms to the speaker that their message has landed and communication has been successful. Without that confirmatory signal, communication hasn’t happened.

For communication to work effectively in any context we need silence.  We need it for two reasons:

  1. Firstly, to give us a chance to think about what’s been said. To file it away in our mental filing cabinet for future recall. Once we have processed the information, we usually give a signal for the speaker to proceed.
  2. Secondly, to allow the speaker to consider what they are going to say next. Thinking before you speak is generally a good idea although not widely used in some organisations.

Jamming the silence

Silence is often the missing ingredient in dull presentations, samey conference calls and verbose meetings. This is usually because we find silence uncomfortable particularly when speaking under pressure, when we haven’t prepared or are too impassioned.  The impact of less silence is that communication is partially corrupted. If we agree that people remembering your messages is generally a good thing, then periodic silence is required for us to process and store the message. Ideas need time to breathe.  

Two-way communication is about transmission but more importantly, it is about reception. When did you last sit through a continuous ‘stream of consciousness’ from a colleague? It is no fun, mainly because it is about as far away from a two-way communication as you can get. A ‘stream of consciousness’ is a burst transmission where the speaker has stopped (or never started) paying attention to the needs of the listeners.

Silence can be uncomfortable, but it is critical if you want to get your message across.  Next time you speak, why not try adding a little more?