Silence is Golden
Undoubtedly you’ve heard this proverbial saying. It’s often used in situations where saying nothing is thought to be preferable to speaking. Emily Dickinson said, “Saying nothing sometimes says the most.” Claude Debussy, the famous French composer, said, “Music is the silence between the notes.”
Unfortunately, pausing in silence and listening is a skill that has been ignored in the modern era of quick fixes and instant gratification. Plus, people dislike silence because it feels awkward. Consider the ways we describe it - eerie silence, deafening silence and hushed silence, to name a few. But silence is a powerful influence tactic, as in: “His silence spoke volumes."
The ability to listen effectively is a vital skill for leadership. Few do it well. Most of us engage in listening only as a way of waiting until it's our turn to speak. But taking a deep breath and keeping your mouth shut is one of the most powerful ways to get others to be accountable and get things moving in the right direction.
If you can't resist thinking about what you want to say when listening, focus instead on what people say and how they say it. You'll find they give themselves away to you constantly and enable you to understand their beliefs and objections. If you want to hear what a person is really saying, listen to the silence between their words and listen with your eyes.
Think about the times patients have refused treatment recommendations. Typically the tendency is to respond by launching into arguments designed to make your advice clearer. STOP. Unless you know why the patient is refusing, you won't be able to influence effectively. When you silence yourself and listen first, you may learn that preconceived notions about why you are being refused are wrong.
For example, one of your patients needs several crown replacements but refuses to schedule the first appointment. This is not due to cost but out of fear that he doesn't think he can sit for the required time to shape the teeth, take impressions and place temporaries all in one visit. If you presume that his objection is monetary, you miss the opportunity to negotiate a plan that is mutually viable. Listening first enables you to understand his objection or to counter his unjustified fear. Rather than bombarding the patient with every detail of what you think is problematic, leave plenty of space for him to fill in with a comment or question. That's what gets the patient invested and committed to treatment.
More than anything, your patients and your employees want to be heard and understood. Silence is a powerful tool that gives people a feeling of calm and confidence. It can inspire thoughtful action. And it can hold people accountable. Here's an employee example.
Jane, your finance coordinator, comes into your office to complain about Mary the scheduling coordinator. She tells you that Mary talks too much with patients and she (Jane) can’t concentrate on her work. To emphasize her frustration she also says that Judy, another front desk employee, “feels the same way.”
Like so many people, you are more likely to take the path of least resistance and opt for the quick fix. You might say to Jane, “OK, I’ll talk with Mary.” STOP. If you want to take your practice to the next level, you need to restrain your action-oriented style. Here’s what you should you do.
Listen for a short minute (that means less than 60 seconds) and then stop the noise. In a soft tone with a neutral face expression (and in a genuinely curious mindset), ask Jane to tell you three things she has done to make the situation better. And then be silent. Do not say another word. In these types of conversations, few people can stand a prolonged silence. By not jumping in with “I’ll talk with Mary” you empower Jane to be more accountable. Your silence will allow her to solve her own problems, and that makes her a better problem solver and a better employee down the road.
The ability to influence others continues to be the single most important factor for effective leadership. Your practice success is directly related to your ability to win trust and gain respect through communication with employees and patients. By using the tool of silence, you increase your power to influence. With consistent practice you will become more skilled, feel more comfortable, and be more successful in leading your team and your patients.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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