Is silence a leadership skill?

Is silence a leadership skill?
“If everybody thought before they spoke, the silence would be deafening.”
~George Barzan

I am definitely one of those people who “think out loud.” My business partner and I have an understanding that I can ramble on as we think through a challenge. It’s the way I generally process and how I often come to my best conclusions. But my thinking out loud is not always the best option – not when I’m interacting with other people.

There’s a concept of “poker face” that I work on with my clients – adapting your behavior so that your expressions don’t reveal your emotions too transparently. I also work with some of my clients (and myself) on “poker mouth” – the ability to not say everything that comes into your head, and instead to be Thoughtful and intentional, so that you say the things that are more likely to get you the results you want. Because sometimes we all, and some of us more than others, speak before we think – and run the risk of upsetting those around us, or of inflaming an already tough situation.

In the heat of the moment, in a fit of anger or frustration, many of us lose the ability to stop and think before we react to what someone else has said or done. We blurt out a retort, not mindful (and often not caring) of how it will land on the other person. We speak and then think through whether or not that was the best thing to say, if we think through that at all.

If we stopped and thought before we opened our mouth and voiced our opinions we might find a better way to say what we feel needs to be said. We might, in fact, find that saying nothing at all would be more effective – for the situation and the relationship in the long run. The silence might be deafening, but the silence might also be golden.

How do we stop to think before we share what’s on the tip of our tongue? That’s easier for some of us than for others. It can help to count to ten, to leave the room, to force ourselves to think big picture and long-term, to push ourselves to think through – really think through – what end result we want. These tactics all help us hit the pause button, and deafen the world with our Thoughtful silence.

How do you remember to think before you speak and how has it worked for you? Please leave a comment.

The next time you have to immediately say what’s on your mind, stop for the count of ten and think it through.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For help in practicing your deafening silence, contact Lisa at

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Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

Edmond A. Tiryak   |   02 September 2013

Lisa, I definitely think that there is a sexual component to this. I think women are more likes to need to hear their thoughts as they process them. Men are more likely to want to impress by announcing the “correct” answer, even if there isn’t one correct answer.

So I definitely want to consider what I say and more or less feel that I have the right answer, before I speak. So I can impress everyone with how smart I am. What I do not want is to say something, then see everyone react negatively.

Lisa Kohn   |   05 September 2013

Thanks Edmond. I hadn’t thought through the gender differences – they are interesting to consider. As is your comment, “if you regularly speak the first thing that comes to mind, then you cannot strongly value being right, nor do you mind appearing foolish.” I think that those of us who do sometimes speak the first thing that comes to mind might benefit from your viewpoint – and therefore think through what we’re saying before we say it. Thanks again!

Edmond A. Tiryak   |   03 September 2013

Put another way, if you regularly speak the first thing that comes to mind, then you cannot strongly value being right, nor do you mind appearing foolish, at least some of the time.