How to Capture the Opportunity in Awkward Silence

The need for quick answers is the path to shallow solutions.

The best thing to hear after asking penetrating questions is silence, especially your own.


Courageous leaders dare to ask awkward questions. More importantly, kind leaders wait to hear answers.

Give the gift of silence:

Listen for silence and watch for indications of thought after asking questions.

Easily answered questions provide information to the questioner. Penetrating questions provide insights to those who hear them, if you pause after asking them.

The path to insight:

The best questions don’t have easy answers.

  1. Team members say, “I don’t know.” Honor not-knowing. It comes before knowing.
  2. Eyes turn to the ceiling. Looking up indicates thinking.
  3. Individuals shift in their chairs. Powerful questions create discomfort.
  4. People sigh and look away. Penetrating questions cause anxiety.

Silence helps people reflect, gain insights, and find solutions.

  1. Don’t answer for people.
  2. Don’t solve problems quickly.
  3. Don’t interrupt silence with drivel.

Leaders learn when they stop talking. More importantly, teammates gain insight when you give them space to think.

Silence with kindness:

  1. Relax.
  2. Nod.
  3. Don’t stare.
  4. Sit back in your chair.
  5. Soften facial expressions.
  6. Avoid any signs of impatience. Don’t drum your fingers.
  7. Say, “Take your time.”

Honor the courage to not-know. If they had the answer, discovery wouldn’t matter.


  1. Ask one question at a time.
  2. Ambiguous questions allow more thought.
  3. Just stop talking after asking a question.

5 situations where silence matters most:

  1. After asking awkward questions.
  2. After declaring your heart. Vulnerability is derailed with explanations.
  3. After encountering strong emotion.
  4. When people look like they’re thinking.
  5. When people don’t answer the question you ask. (This happens more than you might expect.)

How might leaders create space for others to gain insight and find solutions?

What suggestions do you have for leaders who fear silence?

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