Pouring Words into Pauses

By Sallie W. Boyles

Do you feel uncomfortable when people are gathered for a discussion, and silence descends on the group? 

Variations of the following scenarios are easy to imagine:

·      The leader poses a question for any attendee to answer, and no one speaks up.

·      A big idea is presented for consideration, and no one comments.

Even if you’re seeing people’s expressions and body language, do you perceive the silence differently if you’re physically together versus video conferencing? 

Does the nature of the group amplify quiet moments or make silences more acceptable?

Do people rely on you (or can you always count on certain individuals) to inject something—perhaps an icebreaker or off-topic remark—to fill in the gaps?

What would happen if no one said a word until someone had a valid point? What if the silence continued for a full minute or much longer? 


Listening to a podcast forced me to evaluate how I’d been conditioned to react to pauses. 

The format was an interview between a father and a son. Although both were knowledgeable, the son was primarily asking questions of his more learned father, and their warm exchange gave their audience the sense of being privy to a private conversation.

Every few minutes, the recording would go silent. Since I was walking my dog, I assumed my phone was dropping the connection. Annoyed, I’d remove the device from my pocket and tap the screen, but I’d have to double-click to restart the audio. I repeated the action multiple times before realizing the connection was fine all along. 

The speaker, not the transmission, had been pausing. By clicking the first time, I was halting the interview, which is why I had to click twice! To be fair, the men were seated and not moving much, so the video would appear to have stalled. Nevertheless, I was slow in catching on:

To make his words count, the wise man was stopping to consider how he would phrase his statements.

Notably, conversational pauses are perfectly natural among people who know and trust one another. If we keep that in mind, we not only become more accustomed to silences, but we can also train our brains to welcome them. 

Instead of urging people to speak up, we can encourage them to take time to ponder. Likewise, we can become less compelled to fill the airways with meaningless chatter. 

What do you say on the matter? Take as much time as you need to think about it.

My best to you,


Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at https://WriteLady.com.