5 Reasons to Pause Before You Answer

July 3, 2014

Using pauses in speech

The right word may be effective, but no word is ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.– Mark Twain


Pausing is undervalued and underutilized by leaders. There’s a tendency when someone asks us a question to enter a “me” mindset. “Now it’s my turn,” our brains tend to think. As a result, we might make the following “me” mistakes:

1. We project our own feelings onto the asker–either our feelings on the topic or whatever feelings we have carried into the conversation that have nothing to do with the topic/asker.

2. We try to turn the discussion toward our own experiences (particularly recent ones)–not just because they’re relevant, but because we want to share/take over the focus of the conversation.

3. We answer when really we ought to direct the question to someone else–the appropriate decision-maker.

To avoid making “me” mistakes, pause.

Pausing has five distinct benefits:

1. Pausing allows both asker and responder time for thought/processing.

2. Pausing allows the asker time to share more information/context (particularly if they operate at a slower pace than the responder)

3. Pausing allows time to do a quick emotional temperature reading. How do I feel about this, and why? It gives both a breather and relieves tension.

4. Pausing demonstrates to the asker that the question has been heard and is being deeply considered, not getting a knee-jerk reaction. It signals respect. And, in return, the asker will likely consider the response more deeply (and share more easily and frequently in the future).

5. Pausing reduces errors in judgment. The first thing that comes to mind might not be the right thing to say. Pausing gives you a moment to consider how your comment might be misunderstood or potentially hurtful. Pausing gives you a chance to decide if you ought to direct the question to someone else, too. Leaders need to be particularly mindful of when they might be usurping the power or decisions of others. When they pause, leaders should ask themselves, “Whose decision is this?”

Before you answer, pause.

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