In Praise of the Altruistic Pause

Sometimes we gotta go back to basics.

Sometimes we gotta go back to basics.

I have been hanging with a couple of super-smart executives. You have great minds. Think fast. Speak well. Your words keep coming and coming. With passion. With enthusiasm. With ferocious commitment to an idea, a vision, a specific plan of action.

Wonderful. I admire your brain power. And I want to run.

Not because of your vision or ideas. No. Because amid the onslaught of verbiage I often feel like there’s no room for me to breathe. To jump in and share MY thoughts.

Your brilliance has suffocated me. I simply shut down. An idea that doesn’t land is an idea that really doesn’t matter. Fast talking with no impact is, in the end, an act of narcissism.

One-way satisfaction. Wasted time.

The curse of being smart is that you’re often 3 steps ahead of those you speak with.

You have had time to chew on the idea you’re expressing. I haven’t.

Want me to align with your vision, your ideas, plan? Want to bring me onboard?

Give me room to breathe. To think. To absorb.

Whenever I’m with a fast talker I’m reminded of the wisdom of the basics. How simple they are. How profound. These simple guidelines, honed in a previous career of coaching speakers, will immeasurably enhance the impact you have in any conversation. They will most definitely encourage folks to come onboard.

  •  Mind Your Pace

When we talk rapidly we tend to spew and gush our words. This rapid delivery is usually fueled by a noble instinct. I am passionate about what I’m saying. I believe so very strongly in my cause. I am “fired up.” Fine. What you experience as passion I experience as an assault. Remember, you’re 3 steps ahead of me. Your firehose style quenches my desire to join this conversation.

Bear this in mind, as well: Rapid-fire talk is easily interpreted as nervousness. As not being in command of a message. Rapid delivery is the style of junior leaders. And it makes it harder to align around your junior-ness, great intent notwithstanding. Do not wear your junior-ness on your sleeve. Mind your pace.

  • Pause Frequently

Your pause allows me to hear my own thoughts. Know my own reactions to what you just said. Yes, to absorb. If you want me to align I need time to absorb. Only when I begin to absorb do I have the energy to align. When you talk without pause I reach my absorption limit very, very quickly. Help me out, please. Pause a lot.

Bear this in mind: The pause is not so you can overthink what you’re about to say next. That would be a narcissistic pause. Pause purely so I can breathe. That’s the altruistic pause. I thank you in advance.

  •  Check for Understanding

Rapid speakers often speak with a sense of noble purpose or entitled authority. Anytime you and I speak – yes really, anytime, especially in a business conversation – what matters is that our communication lands. That it is heard. Hopefully understood. Speaking without knowing if a message has landed is a waste of time and energy. Yours and mine.

Let’s not waste either. Simple questions like Does this make sense? or How does this sit with you? or Is there anything I have missed? or May I clarify anything I have just said? indicate that we are interested in helping our message land. Alignment encouraged.

  •  Invite Responses

I’m much more likely to align with you when I am given space to voice my doubts and concerns. Just speaking my thoughts out loud liberates them and sets them free. Your thoughtful response and the comments and clarifications of others will help me to make sense of what you’re proposing, even if it is non-negotiable.

Alignment and buy-in happen in the act of “talking it through.” Under the spell of a fast talker I am condemned to silence. Voluntary silence sometimes creates the space I need to wrap myself around a new initiative. Forced silence rarely does.

So yes, the basics. Avoid the temptation to spew and gush. Mind your pace. Pause often. Check for understanding. Invite discourse.

Buy-in is more likely when I am given room to breathe. So let me breathe. Better yet. Create the space so we can breathe together.

Alignment facilitated.

Achim Nowak