Silence is something that is rarely discussed, but is a critical part of the way we communicate. For most people, silence is uncomfortable and awkward, and they will quickly bring up a new topic or ask a question if there is a moment of silence in conversation. Most people don't spend much time thinking about silence, or its potential as a tool. One group of people who do spend a lot of time thinking about silence, is therapists. Learning to use silence is a critical part of learning to be a good therapist. Once you have spent some time becoming comfortable with silence, you really get a new perspective on people and how they communicate. Researchers can use silence to become better at their craft in a number of ways.
For anyone who wants to spend their lives researching other people, effective silence is a critical tool to understand. It can be used in a number of ways to improve the quality of your research, as well as your performance as a colleague or manager.
Tool for Respondents to Share More
1) Moderators can use silence as a tool to get quieter, skeptical, or shy respondents to share more. While this is hard for many moderators to learn to do, if you can get to the point where you are truly comfortable with silence, it can be a great way to get respondents to share more. Even very experienced moderators sometimes don't realize how much of a conversation they are driving. For respondents who tend to be a little shy, or who are a little less engaged or skeptical of the research process, it is easy for a more dominant moderator to talk over them at times. Slowing the conversation down, keeping quiet for longer periods, and focusing on the respondent with non-verbal encouragement can help engage these respondents and get them started sharing. They often will be stilted in their initial sharing, but with encouragement (especially non-verbal encouragement) they will start to share more.
Become a More Effective Analyst & Communicator
2) For both moderators, as well as those in the backroom, silence can also make you a more effective analyst and communicator. Fight your urge to speak when first discussing a problem or an issue, and instead listen carefully to what is being said by your respondents, colleagues, and clients. Although this seems like basic advice, it is surprising how many people fail to do this. Make sure you understand (or at least try hard to understand) the why behind what people are saying before you try and formulate a plan or give any advice. If you can do this, you will be much more effective and ahead of most people.
Become A More Effective Listener
3) Very few people understand that listening is more powerful than speaking when communicating with others. This seems counter-intuitive, but it is true. People remember what they told you more vividly than they remember what you told them. If you think about that, it means that you should focus more on what people want to tell you, especially in professional contexts, and less on what you want to tell them. Becoming a more effective listener will improve your performance as a researcher and colleague.
Understand People Better
4) Silence gives you a clearer view of who other people really are and what they care about. If you can use silence to get out of the way conversationally, people will fill the space with things they care about that you may not have brought up. It is a great way to get to know what other people are thinking about.
Become more Charismatic & Attractive!
5) Be prepared for people to find you more attractive. I know you are too smart and focused on being a better researcher to care about this, but people love to feel heard and understood and if you become a better listener, they will find your more charismatic and attractive. Let this be your warning!
Stay tuned for more market research tips coming in the following weeks!