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The Ultimate Communication Skill: Learning When to Keep Quiet


Being an effective communicator isn’t only about what you say

My business partner and I were visiting the United States from Spain in order to get legs under our latest project. During a meeting with a potential investor, my partner constantly struggled to find the right words. He knew our pitch, but his English just wasn’t up to par.

Time and time again I jumped in and I finished his sentences. I thought I was helping the situation. But when I began to butt in for the fourth time, the investor held up his hand, looked me directly in the eye and said, “Michael, please shut up.”

I was embarrassed and I said less than 10 words for the next hour. Despite this, my partner and the investor ended up hitting it off.

That day I learned an incredible lesson, one that shows up in all professions: The best writers know when to stop pouring on words. The best composers know exactly when no sound is music to our ears.

And the best communicators know exactly when to keep quiet.

Knowing when our words are needed and when they aren’t is complicated. Over the last 15 years, I’ve worked in primarily communication-based roles and I still make mistakes like finishing someone’s sentence. However, being called out that day finally made me realize the importance of taking the time to properly analyze situations to better understand if our words are truly needed or not. Below are six of those circumstances.

1. When someone is testing your nerves

When you get angry, do you communicate better or worse? A communication coach asked me this question recently, and now I repeat it to myself every time I feel my pulse escalate. It serves as a powerful reminder that the best way to keep the peace is by holding ourselves back from starting a war.

If someone is pushing your buttons, are you sure you will be able to effectively communicate your thoughts and feelings? Remember this the next time someone says or does something that gets under your skin. You may find that simply taking a moment to catch your breath saves you from saying something you may regret.

2. When the person you are with is having a bad day

Studies show that as much as 93 percent of communication is non-verbal. People with strong communication skills recognize the importance of this. In addition to being conscious of their own body language, they also observe the non-verbal communication of the people around them before opening their mouths.

If you are having a great day ask yourself if the people around you look like they are up for celebrating. Is their body language open or are they slouching? Do the lines on their faces show the signs of a hard day? Does their tone indicate to you that maybe it’s not the best time to pop open a bottle of champagne? There’s a time and a place for everything and effective communicators understand that some days not everyone wants to party.

3. When you are being given negative feedback

Tim Ferriss said that a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.

Strong communicators understand this and consistently open themselves up to the thoughts and feedback of others in order to grow. However, this doesn’t mean that at times the opinions of others don’t sting. Like most people, strong communicators can have their feelings hurt. But instead of justifying their actions, they take the advice on the chin. They do, eventually, open their mouths. But only to thank the person for being kind enough to tell them how grateful they are for their feedback.

4. When someone else is reveling in the spotlight

If someone is happy they accomplished one of their goals, people with strong communication skills do not rain on their parade by announcing their own achievements. Instead, they embrace the role of being a silent supporter and congratulate the person by giving them space to enjoy their moment.

The people who make the biggest dent in the world understand that the fastest way to carve their own path is by helping others to carve theirs. Letting others feel your support is one of the ways in which you can do just that.

5. When someone says they need to talk

Not everyone is looking for a solution to the problems they face. Sometimes they just need to put a voice to their feelings and expressing themselves out loud helps them to see things more clearly. There’s loads of truth to the old adage “A problem shared is a problem half solved.”

Having someone confide in you is a massive compliment. It demonstrates trust and shows how much they value your friendship. Remember this the next time someone needs to vent and provide them with a quiet shoulder to lean on. When roles are reversed, you may find that you too are given the space you need to talk things out for yourself.

6. When someone else is talking

Unlike most people who jump the gun before being given the green light, effective communicators are patient and wait until it’s their turn to speak. They do this because they’ve learned the hard way that the second you interrupt someone is the moment you begin to lose them.

However, even poor communicators can simply wait for their turn. What separates the best from the rest is they recognize when their attention has turned inward and they use it as a marker to shift their focus back onto the speaker in order to give them the respect they deserve.

Two years have passed since the day the investor called me out. It was embarrassing, and not a day has passed since my business partner hasn’t been kind enough to remind me of it.

Despite this, I’m glad it happened.

It made me finally realize that silence isn’t only power — it’s also simply being courteous to the people around you.

To learn more about how you can create more opportunities by improving your relationships visit here.