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The fine art of silence: When saying less can be more

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in Human Resources

Anyone who has watched the political debates this year has seen a lot more talking going on than listening. Candidates seem to enjoy listening to their own voices, often repeating the same vague statements without really saying anything.

The same thing can happen in the workplace. For various reasons—nervousness, ego, control issues—managers sometimes “overexplain” an issue or fill the silence with unnecessary words.

“Have you ever been in a conversation with a person who has already made his point but just won’t let it go?” asks Mike Staver, author of the book, Do You Know How to Shut Up? And 51 Other Life Lessons That Will Make You Uncomfortable.

“While some people love the sound of their own voices, others simply chatter on out of nervousness or because they’re uncomfortable with silence. Regardless, it’s counterproductive.”

Example: When conducting job interviews, managers should follow the 20/80 rule: You talk 20% of the time while the interviewee talks 80%. It’s important to allow silence to linger as the candidate ponders a question or struggles to find the right words.

By remaining silent at key times, people appear more confident and in control. Plus, says Staver, “it’s amazing how much you can learn when you stop talking.”

Here are five ways to speak your mind in a brief, but efficient manner:

1. Think first. Be clear about what you’re attempting to communicate. Then say it in as few words as possible.

2. Avoid becoming distracted when making a point—stick to one point at a time.

3. Use talk-ending techniques, like saying, “So, what are the next steps?”

4. Give information in an amount the listener can reasonably digest—not the amount you personally feel compelled to share.

5. Ask someone you trust to give you honest feedback on the volume of words you use, the degree to which you are clear and the degree to which you are concise.

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