How to Use Silence with Others

20150228-084538.jpg

Photo by the author

Silence is something more of us should do.  The more social media that I read, the more I think that humankind has a need to be heard, to always respond.  Despite the need to respond, we don’t always want someone to give us feedback.  Feedback is sometimes the hot button that just makes a person clam up.

The opportunities around silence are immense.  

  • Silence from others, allows us to process what is affecting us.  Immediate feedback only disrupts this process.
  • Silence communicates a respect when you are listening.  It allows others to know you are present with them, not discounting what they are saying.
  • People in pain, don’t need automatic response.  They need presence.
  • Silence keeps us from sometimes saying something we should not say.  It keeps us out of hot water.

Knowing when to be silent and when to respond.

  1. Respond when the person appears ready to accept your response.  Keep your eye contact focused on the other person.  Keep a safe but engaged distance
  2. Silence means you are processing what is being said.  Respond only when you are expected to respond, ask questions, configure your language to reflect what is being said
  3. Responding is not always necessary.   Respond in ways that you would like others to respond to you.  Take time to focus on other’s immediate needs.

Asking permission to respond is a respectful transition.  The other person will let you know when they are ready to receive your response.  Then they will be ready to complete the transition.

Mentoring is Not About Showcasing Your Superiority 


When you’re charged with the responsibility of teaching or mentoring others, the way you proceed may result in developing or hindering others.

A Story: “I was once a customer in a well known fast food establishment.  The main customer service staff was mentoring a new staff member.  The lines were long and the veteran staff member shouted orders to the new staff member, but showed him little about the task at hand.  At one point he said: ‘Now for a test…let’s see if you can make one of these….’  As the mentor provided a dramatic showcase for waiting customers concerning his superiority, the new employee looked at us with a frustrated desperation of: ‘What have I got myself into?'”

The lesson: I walked away embarrassed.  As a manager myself, it appeared repulsive that the veteran employee would substitute a teaching moment where support is offered, with a selfish demonstration of how good he was.

Making a Good Mentor: The lesson is that good mentoring is about (or any teaching) is delivering assistance with support, not showcasing your superiority.  

  1. As a mentor you are as much a learner, as a teacher.
  2. Superiority is about you, not the development of others.  It means if I have to look better than you, I must feel pretty weak.
  3. Mentoring is not about discouraging others 
  4. Good mentoring should make others feel more confident.
  5. Teaching others is not about testing them, especially in front of customers. That makes your customers doubt your organization’s capacity.

The sad lesson from the story above is that the veteran employee in all his confidence actually made himself and the organization look bad.  

Teaching capacity in others is about being humble, supportive and caring.  

If you don’t care about the people you teach, how can you expect them to take care of the organization?