By Amy Watt, founder, Megawatt Coaching
Silence is a little understood virtue in communications but 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.
But, aside from short-term issues or annoyances, the inability to stay quiet and listen, is likely to be a hindrance for PR managers, as well as agency professionals, in the long-term.
There are a couple of reasons for my concerns.
First, 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.
Second, 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?
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. When was the last time you called up a friend out of the blue to hear about what’s going on with them, instead of WhatsApping them? These channels also put the pressure on when it comes to sharing more about ourselves.
On top of this culture of sharing, rather than listening, we’re now used to constant background noise and notifications that can make us uncomfortable with silence. “Why didn’t she answer the message I sent ten minutes ago? Something must be wrong!”
Active listening brings opportunity
With all this going on, it is not surprising that active listening is under-exploited by most of us in the communications profession. 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 silence in this industry is an opportunity to stand out, rather than a barrier to success. By connecting the fundamental principles of insightful conversations to our consultancy we create 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.