Silence in Meetings Can Be Good and Bad

The Power in Silence

To be engaged in a meeting doesn’t necessarily mean you are talking. In a world of overwhelming noise, silence is a powerful force that can help us cultivate relationships, encourage reflection and improve our overall communication ability.

Talking does not equal engagement. If their point is made, they don’t feel the need to make it again. Some people weren’t as prepared for a topic and are considering in silence.

Silence isn’t just necessary, it must be created.

  • When the topic or decision is complex.
  • When a brand new point has been contributed that deserves consideration.
  • When you want people to really think!

Think about the power of silence in your next meeting and use it wisely. When we use silence strategically, it can be a powerful collaboration and communication tool.

A Tactic from Bezos: Start With Silence

In the opening minutes of some meetings, before any discussion begins, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and his team of senior executives read printed memos in total silence. During this time, and attendees peruse. They scribble notes in the margins.

But most important, they think.

Bezos says this community exercise has a wonderful purpose: It assures undivided attention on the part of everyone in attendance. It actually saves time in the long run. The foundation for the meetings is laid in real time, starting everyone off, well, on the same page. Focused thinking and extended reflection can lead to deep discoveries. This small investment of a few minutes can produce huge dividends.

Silence Means No

We’ve all been in the meeting where everyone seems to reach consensus on what to do next, only to find later that some didn’t agree at all. Reading Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage” the other day, I came across a simple tip: Change the meaning of silence in your meeting to “no.”

Here’s how it works: When closing an action item in the meeting, the leader should ask, “Does everyone agree?” If there is silence from anyone, assume they don’t. Only once everyone has verbally affirmed they’re on board should the leader move to the next action item.

Next time you’re in a meeting and it seems like everyone agrees, make a quick pass around the room and ask for an affirmative “yes” instead. You’ll be surprised at how often perceived agreement was anything but.

When it comes to ideas, silence can mean even more. Here’s a common scenario: You confidently present your new idea – a carefully constructed new strategy with every detail considered and accounted for. Instead of enthusiastic approval, you get silence. You can be certain that the sound of crickets does not indicate a resounding team approval.

What did you do wrong? Here’s a potential misstep — You developed your great idea, alone. If you’re not involving your team until it’s time to execute, you cheated smart, engaged team members of the work they enjoy most – developing new ideas.

The “Do-Over”

Instead of developing your own idea:

  • Think about how you can best provide context for the strategy discussion.
  • Determine the right questions to ask your team.
  • Provide your team time to visualize their responses.
  • Schedule a meeting where you ask them to share those ideas with you.

Silence does not mean you flawlessly communicated your new strategy – it most likely signals your project’s imminent death.

All insights and ideas are attributed to the following articles: