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The Power of Silence when Interviewing

As an aspiring radio announcer in my early twenties, I learned the importance of using a pause when delivering the news – to emphasize an important point with your audience.


Later, my college speech professor talked about the importance of using a pause when delivering presentations, to captivate the attention of your audience and help them digest the meaning of the message.


Why does a pause work?


While an average person speaks 150 words per minute, our thought rate is at least four times faster. Sometimes in the process of communicating all those thoughts, people speak faster, use extraneous words, and make sentences bigger than necessary. This can create confusion and make your listener lose track of your message.


Years ago, my neighbor, a police officer, asked me for some tips on how to deliver an effective presentation to his superiors. I passed along several tips, including the power of the pause.


My neighbor Mike smiled and said, “We use the power of the pause too as officers. It is slightly different than the way you are explaining it. When we interrogate a suspect, we have been trained to allow the suspect to answer the question completely, but then do not say anything when they are done speaking. Allow silence to fill in.”


Mike said they use the power of the pause because with many people who are being interrogated, the second response they give us is likely more truthful than a rehearsed first response.


Then one day I got to thinking, job candidates often like to rehearse answers to potential interview questions. Maybe I can use this power of the pause technique, to help me get at answers that they may not have prepared for in advance.


The first time I used the technique, I was amazed how it worked! I asked a forklift driver what they would do if they were driving a forklift and it began to tip over. The applicant said they would never put themselves in that position to begin with, that they had 10 years of attending preventive safety for forklifts. I smiled, then used the power of the pause for about 5 seconds.


The applicant then said, “If it ever did happen, I would probably jump off and run like heck.” I thanked them for the answer. I jotted in my notes, if hired, the applicant needs to get safety training on how to deal with a lift that is tipping over. Staying in your seat, gripping the wheel securely and bracing yourself with your feet is the safest thing to do.


On occasions, I interview sub-contractors who have an interest in licensing my material so they can deliver it themselves. Since these professionals can be a direct reflection of me, I make sure these professionals represent me well. I asked one gentleman the question, “If you are asked the question by a class attendee, what would you do if one team member is complaining about another team member’s performance, how would you handle the question?”


He quickly replied that, as a leader with 30 years’ experience, he could easily relate to team members who get frustrated when others are not doing their share. Quite simply, he would get both employees together in his office and discuss the situation as adults.


I smiled, then exercised the power of the pause. The brief silence triggered this gentleman to continue with his answer: “I guess I would also encourage the team members to work it out themselves.” I made a quick note: the leader lacks skills on how to deal with conflict between employees.


When one team member complains about another’s performance, they are doing the leader’s job. Leaders need to see it for themselves and not take another employee's opinion for it.


So, the next time you need to deliver a presentation, or you are interviewing a job candidate, keep in mind the power of the pause. The power of silence. It’s a small and easy to use tactic, but it can deliver big and meaningful results.



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