The Power of Not Talking

Somewhere along the line, many of us became extremely uncomfortable with silence. If there is a gap in conversation, we rush to fill it. If the house is quiet, we turn on the television. Our cars fill up with sounds from the radio. (Turn down that bass, PLEASE!)

Where this is glaringly evident is when we ask someone a question. If the question isn’t answered quickly, we step in and begin offering suggestions for what the answer might be. We think we’re being compassionate or helpful. In fact, we are being phenomenally rude.

We no longer allow others time to ruminate. We expect ready answers and become uncomfortable when they are not offered.

The Law of Attraction says, “You attract what you focus on.” When, instead of waiting for people’s ideas and answers, we jump in to provide our own, the focus is on their inability to think for themselves. We quickly find ourselves surrounded by people who look to us for answers instead of coming up with their own solutions. When you’re the “answer person,” life gets tiresome quickly. We wonder why there aren’t more self-sufficient people, never understanding that we squelch any spark of initiative when we don’t allow others to answer the questions we pose.

When I train people how to ask questions to empower others, I give an instruction that involves two words our mothers told us never to use together. When you ask someone a question designed to elicit any kind of information, just

SHUT UP!!!!!

There it is. It had to be said, and I’m just the one to say it!

When you ask someone a question and then you impatiently supply the answer, you have just told that person some version of the following: “Clearly you are too stupid to answer for yourself, so allow me – superior in intelligence and experience – to help you.”

Earlier, I wrote that we do this out of compassion and the desire to be helpful. I believe that’s true most of the time. We see the discomfort of the other person struggling to answer and, ever ready to assist, we jump in. The problem is that the help we provide doesn’t allow room for the all-important learning that comes from figuring out solutions and answers for ourselves.

Let’s be frank. Sometimes it’s not compassion at all. I often hear from people, “It’s just easier to do it myself. I already know how to do it and I don’t have time for someone else to figure it out.” These are the same martyrs who complain because they have to “do everything around here.” (You know who you are!)

Organizational Development Expert Meg Wheatley teaches that there are three things people do with advice or directions given by others:

1. Shelve it

2. Change it

3. Criticize it

In other words, they’re not going to do it the way you tell them to anyhow, so why waste your breath? People are much more inclined to implement solutions they come up with themselves. Therefore, you want to allow them to do so, especially if you ever want to resign the role of the “answer person.”

The next time you find yourself answering a question you ask another person, stop yourself and say, “That was rude. I asked you a question and now I’m answering it as if you can’t speak for yourself. I apologize.” And then, simply SHUT UP! In this case, your mother would approve.

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