One of the most effective tools for anyone working with a group of people is to be very, very comfortable with uncomfortable silence. Usually, a speech, meeting or class gets off-track when the person leading it seems to be bothered when no one is responding to a question or statement. That awkward pause, that SILENCE, can be very unnerving.
What often happens? Well, we answer it ourselves, of course. And that takes away any incentive for anyone in that group to respond afterwards. ”Wait long enough – he’ll answer it himself” will be in the minds of every participant.
When you do that, you remove the expectation of participation. They’ll remember it.
My technique is very simple – early on in a speech or inservice or planning meeting, I will ask a very specific question.
And, I wait for a response.
If no one responds, I wait some more.
Then, if no one wants to say anything, I say with a smile “You know, I’m very good with uncomfortable silence.” And I keep waiting.
Almost every time, FINALLY someone gets up the nerve to be brave and share a thought. And then, the gates open. The feedback starts coming.
If no one answers after all this; put the question in the parking lot for later in the event or get them into groups to talk about it first. DON’T answer it for them. If necessary, people are more apt to open up first in a smaller group to chew on a question or an idea. Then, ask the question again of the groups and you will get their feedback because they have started talking and want to share what they talked about.
If you work with groups in any way, shape or form, use uncomfortable silence as a tool to get people talking and sharing. Open a door for someone to Be Brave, and keep it open until someone walks through. Then, Celebrate It by getting the group to acknowledge the bravery it took to share that opinion or feedback.
You’ll be amazed at how your events change when you expect people to participate!