I liked this piece in HBR on holding good meetings. Having sat through a fair few interminable meetings in my time, quite a lot of it resonated.

One particular element made me think about a wider issue. The author writes

Pausing conveys that you’re not interested in getting to some place other than right here, right now – that this conversation matters. Don’t spoil your pauses by making comments about the lack of responses or slowness of a response. People often need a few moments to reflect, find something to say and think about the best way to express it. Just wait.

And it’s true. In many western cultures, we are uncomfortable with the idea of pausing. When someone asks us a question, we start talking before we are really sure what we are going to say. While we are talking to people, we are often thinking about what we will say next, rather than truly listening to them.

This is a very cultural construct – there are many cultures in which the pause plays a role. Aboriginal English, for example, makes extensive use of pauses and silence. I lived in Finland as a child and that’s another society where the pause is an important part of communication.

One reason for this is that we are taught somewhere along the line that pausing conveys hesitance, uncertainty, maybe even lying. This is a real shame. If we are all so certain that we have got it right, and don’t stop to consider other views or approaches, we can lose opportunities to improve our work and activities. I see this often in organisations, where a manager sees his or her way of doing things as THE way to do things and criticise their people for taking a different approach. But maybe that person brings experience or knowledge that can improve the process. Or maybe their way makes more sense for people that see things in a particular way.

Not knowing, a little uncertainty, being open to new ideas – these can be openings to doing things better. So embrace the pauses, and use your active listening skills.