How to Use Silence to Strengthen Your Leadership Presence

Jack Reacher is a fictional character in a series of crime thriller novels by British author Lee Child.

In the 1997 novel Killing Floor, Reacher randomly exits a Greyhound bus in Georgia and is later arrested in a local diner for a murder he did not commit. While questioned in custody, Reacher wields the power of silence to maintain his personal advantage:

“Long experience had taught me that absolute silence is the best way. Say something, and it can be misheard. Misunderstood. Misinterpreted. It can get you convicted. It can get you killed. Silence upsets the arresting officer. He has to tell you silence is your right but he hates it if you exercise that right. I was being arrested for murder. But I said nothing.”

Communicate Authority with Silence

Silence holds immense power, especially in situations that involve negotiation.

As inventor and artist Leonardo da Vinci said, “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” Dynamic leaders often use silence to their benefit. When handled with intention and purpose, silence is what some leaders call “a communication superpower.”

Do you tend to interrupt, dominate conversations, or explain your perspective from multiple angles in order to sway opinion? If silence is an overlooked resource in your communication toolkit, you might need to change strategies.

Silence can increase your authority and grow your influence in at least four powerful ways.

Silence Builds Trust

According to best-selling author Bryant H. McGill, “one of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”

If you want to develop effective relationships, you must build trust. And trust begins with listening. Unfortunately, most people don’t listen with the intent to hear, they listen with the intent to reply. When people realize you are truly listening to them, they are much more likely to buy into your ideas.

Silence Can Emphasize Your Point

When you have something important to say, state it briefly and allow a long pause for your words to sink in.

Communication is more than the words we speak, it involves the energy we transmit. When you give room for a lengthy pause, you show people you aren’t scrambling to convince them. And as your words fully land with others, you don’t need to talk as much because silence creates room for people to understand and connect to what you are saying.

Silence Communicates Credibility

Have you ever sat through a meeting where several people squabbled while one person stayed silent?

Eventually, everyone felt tension and curiosity about what the quiet party was thinking. When a silent observer finally interjects an opinion, it speaks louder than the clamor and carries a more memorable quality. “She is so wise,” people think, because sometimes there is a credibility that can only be communicated through silence.

Also, it never hurts to take a lengthy period of time to think before commenting. Abraham Lincoln has been credited with this quote: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

Silence Increases Negotiating Power

A primary negotiation tactic involves asking a question and letting the other person answer first.

Silence when negotiating can give you the advantage because its “deafening” weight can prompt others to speak first. For example, when the other party offers a salary figure or point of compromise, don’t answer immediately. Instead, pause and let the discomfort of silence flush out a bit more detail. Maybe they will offer more or show their own hand.

Leaders know how to use silence as a tactic to communicate authority and influence. Experiment with silence during your conversations and observe the impact it can make.

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Four Ways to Disagree with Tact

Life is compromise.

If you want to work successfully in teams, at some point you will face conflict. In one instance, you may be the manager correcting a team member. In other cases, you may need to “lead up” by disagreeing with a superior.

Either way, successful communication includes the ability to navigate conflict while putting people before the problem.

Here are four ways to prioritize relationship while politely disagreeing.

1. Don’t Blurt

When you hear an incorrect statement, do you immediately or forcefully disagree?

How’s that working for you?

Before you speak, consider how important it is to voice your opinion. Weigh the risks of speaking out versus the risks of staying silent. If you feel compelled to share, consider when and where is best. What context would be most appropriate or what channel would provide the least threatening avenue for your listener? Discussing issues privately (face-to-face) is ideal for minimizing tension or preserving dignity.

2. Prepare Your Listener

Sometimes the best way to dissent is by prefacing your idea.

Ask permission to comment by saying something like this: “I’m not sure I share your opinion, may I make a comment?” Or, “I know the deadline is pressing, but I’m concerned about this approach. Can I run some thoughts by you?”

Giving people a chance to “opt-in” will increase their willingness to listen.

3. Keep Language Neutral

As you unwrap your idea, alleviate tension by keeping your tone steady and your language neutral.

Start by identifying a common goal and frame your opinion as one way the team can work together for a higher purpose.

Holly Weeks, author of Failure to Communicate, says contextualizing your statements will allow the discussion to become “more like a chess game than a boxing match.”

If you need to critique another idea, re-articulate that concept first and build comments from there. This will eliminate confusion and show a good faith effort to understand others.

When you disagree directly, make your focus the problem or flaw at hand, not the people or personalities behind them.

4. Be Humble

No one appreciates prideful people.

When you speak, do your best to be relatable and kind. Emphasize that you are sharing an opinion and leave room for dialogue. This may include phrases like, “I’m just thinking out loud here,” or “this is just my opinion, but . . .”

Polite, clarifying questions may also help. Say, “can you tell me more about ____,” or “can you define what you mean by ____, because maybe I’m defining that differently?”

Speak humbly by inviting the critique of others and by publicly respecting their opinions.

Still struggling for words? Business Management Daily offers several prompts to open the door:

  • “I see what you’re saying but…”
  • “May I make a comment?”
  • “I’m sorry but I disagree with you about this.”
  • “Tell me if I’m off-base here, but…”
  • “I understand where you’re coming from, but…”
  • “That’s a valid point, but…”
  • “I don’t think I share your opinion.”
  • “If I’m not mistaken…”

Agree to Disagree

Finally, there may be times it’s best to agree to disagree.

It’s ok to break a stalemate by acknowledging that you will never agree about an idea. By doing this you can affirm the person (or their authority) without selling out to their idea or opinion.

Everyone gets things wrong sometimes, and if you’re committed a relationship, you’ll give people more grace to experiment or to grow.

5 Elements of Stunning Letterhead Design

Personalized mail is a special commodity these days, especially something that looks smart or sophisticated.

And everyone agrees that there’s a huge difference between a typed letter on a bland white page and one aligned smartly on a beautifully designed letterhead.

While many view letterhead as an afterthought, it’s time to raise the standard!

A sharp letterhead can communicate proficiency, increase response rates, and make your communication more memorable. As you craft a unique, professional look, here are some elements to help you cement your image without overplaying your hand:

1. Embrace Simplicity

One of the guiding principles of letterhead design is to make it flow simply.

While it’s important that your letterhead looks and feels great in the hand, it should still play second fiddle to the communication itself. If designs are too bold, you run the risk of competing with the page content to demand reader attention. When in doubt, simple is best.

2. Represent Your Brand

Letterheads present companies with a great opportunity to represent a brand with sharp fonts, crisp logos, and subtle borders or shading.

Look for ways to draw the designs of your website, envelopes, and letterhead into a more cohesive unit and add some extra depth to your marketing mix. When trying out size contrasts, try to balance the shape of your images with the offset to create a connected design.

3. Don’t Be Afraid of White Space

Like silence between musical notes, a break between elements communicates elegance and ensures a quality user experience.

White space is not “wasted” space, instead, it balances elements, organizes content, and creates spatial proximity so your readers can digest information quickly and simply. Use generous amounts of white space between a large heading and a block of subtext. Or experiment all text flush left or flush right to create more white space between margins.

4. Use Colors Wisely

On printed letterhead, nothing communicates like color.

Use color strategically to draw attention to specific areas of your letterhead, or to add subtle shading to a more grayscale design. If your brand features bright and bold colors, it may be best to use color sparingly in the letterhead but more prominently in your envelope design or packaging. Color can make or break the success of your design, so tread lightly.

5. Don’t Overlook Details

The most critical information to communicate in letterhead is your contact info.

Who is writing the letter, a company or an individual? Decide which pieces of information are critical and build your design around this hierarchy. Keep key information obvious and reduce print size for lower priority info. If you are updating designs or re-ordering, take a fresh look at your materials. If the company you are sending to no longer utilizes a fax machine, perhaps it is best to omit this number. If your organization is larger, consider tailoring several letterhead designs to specific departments.

Letterheads remain an integral part of a brand’s marketing mix. Inject new energy into your designs with thoughtful layouts, creative contrasts, or complementary envelopes that keep your messages stand out in a crowd!