Silence is golden in an age of sharing

By Amy Watt, founder, Megawatt Coaching 

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As we settle into self-isolation, silence is likely to become a bigger part of our lives. A little understood virtue in communications, those who harness its power are often on the front foot in their careers and their counsel. 

Ever found yourself in a one-sided conversation about a project, with little chance to speak or ask a question?  If so, you’re not alone.  We comms people are often in overdrive, with many meetings, tasks and priorities.

As “people people”, many of us might now be missing the buzz and chatter of the office, but our new reality offers an opportunity on this front. As PR managers and agency professionals, if we can’t stay quiet and listen, it is likely to be a hindrance in the long-term. Here’s why it is important to embrace the silence…

We are professional communicators. Communication is by definition a two-way process. If we aren’t honing our listening skills, as well as sharing information, no matter who we’re speaking to, then we’ll miss important insights. Projects could take longer and be more arduous for everyone involved.

Are we listening to the customer if we’re not listening to each other? Really absorbing the customer’s pain points beyond a superficial level can have a powerful effect on a brand’s ability to communicate. Do we often rush into the information-sharing part of a campaign, without doing the silent, information gathering part effectively?

Is social media to blame?

We’re now used to constant background noise and notifications that can make us uncomfortable and impatient with silence. “Why didn’t she answer the message I sent ten minutes ago? Something must be wrong!” 

It’s been well documented that social media is shattering attention spans and leading to more frequent, poorer quality interactions. We can see the effects in our social lives, with short exchanges hastily tapped out while multi-screening, until the recent lockdown, which has opened up space for longer, more caring conversations.

Active listening brings opportunity

With all the “noise” we are usually exposed to, it is not surprising that active listening is under-exploited by most of us in the communications profession. It is tough to tune in any single frequency. But good consultants know how to use silence to draw out more information, and build trust with their client or manager. Instead of launching into a monologue, they ask pertinent questions of their clients to get to the most insightful answers.

Despite the fact they’re saying very little, they are doing something very smart: being humble enough to know they may not have the right answer to the communication challenge in that instant. When they do offer their consultancy, it will be more considered, more relevant, more supportive and therefore more respected by the business.

The same goes for brands that listen carefully to their customers, and take advantage of the growing possibilities for using data to understand an audience. Because this is just another form of careful listening. It leads to more considered, relevant and sensitive communications, with more information in the right hands.

For these reasons, I like to think that embracing moments of silence in this lockdown, could support our industry, rather than being a barrier to success. By bringing more pauses, patience and thoughtful responses to our consultancy, we can create long-term opportunities for the industry, the brands we work for and for ourselves.

Amy Watt is a career coach for those in the communications industry. Sign up to her mailing list for career support tailored to the industry here.  

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