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The Power of the Pause: Listening with Emotional Intelligence




I blew it.


My son had called asking for advice – every mother’s dream! – and I blew it.


The conversation started just fine. And then I lost sight of the golden rule of connection: it’s all about others. Instead, I got caught up in dazzling him with all my wisdom and knowledge.


I wanted to impress him, be the expert. I had made it all about me. Unsurprisingly, he cut the call short.


“Okay, thanks Mom. I’ll figure it out. Bye.”


If only I had been generous enough to pause. It would have given him a chance to reflect, ask questions, request clarification. It would have given me an opportunity to better understand how I could be helpful and what he needed from me. Instead, I delivered a laundry list of ideas in an ego-driven attempt to impart my wisdom. And when he could get a word in, I was so busy preparing to talk again I hardly heard what he said.


I shudder to think of the opportunities I’ve missed to connect with people simply because I spent all my time talking or preparing to talk. It’s easy to forget to leave space in conversations. We so often focus on our words but, when it comes to connecting and staying self-aware, the time without words is just as important.


In the words of international leadership expert John C. Maxwell, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”


Pausing helps YOU:


Stay present:

This is especially effective if you use those precious seconds to breathe deeply. Consider it as a meditative practice: when thoughts of what you should say next, how similar conversations have gone in the past, or how this one will be resolved, let them pass like clouds floating by and refocus on the person in front of you.


Be self-aware:

Pausing gives you a chance to assess what you’re feeling. Is defensiveness or judgment creeping in to taint the conversation? Are you trying to force a result rather than truly connect? These “temperature checks” also offer the opportunity to give yourself a little internal high five when you’re staying fully engaged.


Listen to understand:

Most times, we’re listening to respond. Listening to truly understand slows the tempo and allows authentic, connected communication to flow.


Respond vs. react:

This is especially important for solution-oriented conflict transformation. Many times, our first impulse is driven by reactive emotions. Pause to give yourself time to settle, reflect and respond thoughtfully.


Increase your influence:

People love to be around others who give them their full attention. Be one of those people and see how it changes your life.


Pausing helps THEM:


Feel heard and understood:

Think back to the last time you had a conversation where you felt the other person was really, truly listening. It’s likely not an everyday occurrence, and it isn’t for them either. Imagine the difference this will make in your relationships.


Connect with you:

Not every conversation will be next level, but pausing gives you the best chance of making or strengthening a connection.


Resolve feelings of tension or conflict:

Even if you agree to disagree or they leave the conversation disappointed, the chance of a conflict festering is reduced exponentially if they leave feeling fully heard and understood. Not so if they think you were rushed, distracted or close-minded.


Adding pauses is so simple you can start using it today. It won’t be long before it becomes part of your communication style if you try it consistently. Why? Because your conversations will improve instantly. You’ll feel it, and so will they. I’ve heard it described as “making them feel like they’re the most important person in the room.”


Imagine the power of eliciting that feeling. That’s the power of the pause.


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