The Power of Pause

When you ask a question?pause?long enough to hear an answer then?pause again?before responding!

We all know the importance of listening. And most of us will admit that it?s easier said than done. Particularly when we ask a question that we already know the answer to.

Many leaders think that speeding up a Q&A session is relatively harmless but let?s consider the impacts over a longer period:

  • Staff will disengage through lack of contribution
  • Gaining support for an idea may take longer or be artificial
  • Opportunities to collaborate with others will decrease
  • Solutions will be limited by lack of diverse thinking
  • Creativity within the team will erode

But the most significant impact is staff developing a reliance on their manager. Research conducted by Mary Rowe (1974) in schools found that students, when asked a question, needed ?more than just a few seconds to process information and formulate a response?. When this doesn?t occur, students were more likely to grow a dependence upon the teacher to do their thinking for them.

?When the teacher becomes a non-stop talker, students have no chance to think over what is being said, to formulate intelligent responses, or to ask for clarification.? ~ Mary Rowe

When you apply this finding to the workplace you begin to understand why staff are reluctant to ?speak-up?. I have observed many monthly one-on-one discussions where the manager doesn?t wait any longer then 1-2 seconds before offering a solution, rephrasing or providing hints on the answer. If the staff member remains quiet long enough the conversation will simply carry on?and so will any undesired behaviour!

This dependence can also extend to staff wanting confirmation on the smallest decisions?making it very difficult for the team to continue to perform in the absence of their manager.

The best way to break this culture of dependence is to create a habit of ?pausing? after you ask a question. Try counting in your head?one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, four-one thousand, five-one thousand?for as long as it takes for your staff to respond.

Rowe?s (1974) research reported that when ?pause? time increased to 3-5 seconds students:

  • Appropriate responses increased;
  • Failure to respond decreased; and
  • Comparing data between themselves increased.

I would love to hear how you have created a habit of ?pausing?!

Shelley Flett is a passionate leader with a keen focus on creating sustainable team environments through adaptable leadership.?She is a Leadership Coach, Trainer, Facilitator, Mentor and Speaker who ignites vision and purpose in those she works with.

If you?d like to know more about her program ?Creating Dynamic?Leadership? please drop her an email


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