Is silence really golden? No, I don’t mean the Tremaloes hit from the 60’s, but rather the inherent value and leverage found in silence. As Alex Lickerman, MD points out in his excellent article for Psychology Today, silence is hard for so many to practice because it goes against human nature.
Silence can be extraordinary effective in job interviews and most hiring managers are not good at it. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the desire to fill it rapidly is inherent in human nature. I have observed hiring managers pounce on dead air following a question to a candidate and begin expanding on the question before the candidate could respond to the question.
Similarly, I once interviewed for a job where the interviewer spoke non-stop during the interview; I barely got a response in edgewise over an hour; to this day I cannot fathom how he concluded I was the right person for the job even though that turned out to be true.
A focus on silence can enable more effective listening; another thing most of us struggle with. Paying attention only well enough detect when it is your turn to talk is NOT listening; neither is arranging speaking points in your head (and not being able to pay attention to what is being said) so you can be ready when it is your turn to speak. People usually find out they are guilty of this when the response to their statement is “Have you not been listening to a single thing I’ve said?” Attentive and focused listening takes practice and intent.
Another reason people feel the need to speak, rather than staying silent and listening, is because they fear being thought of as weak or insufficiently quick. I understand this, but such concerns are usually overblown, and the larger risk may be in speaking up. I think that Benjamin Franklin got it right when he said “Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”