The Power of the Gap

Most of what passes today for dialogue consists of two people waiting their turns to talk. While one person is speaking, the other is busy formulating a comeback.

You miss so much that way.

In the richest conversations, there is a gap between a question asked and the response given. This gap is easily recognized because it sounds very much like silence. But there is a wealth of information being born within the gap and, if you rush it, you will miss many important ideas. (Not for nothing do we refer to a “pregnant pause”!)

Most of us grow deeply uncomfortable when silence falls. Our minds race as we wonder what the other person is thinking or how they are reacting. Is he mad at me? Have I offended him? How do I fix this?

We have learned to fear silence because some people use it as a weapon. My father, for example, was a consummate poker player and used silence to intimidate the other players. The longer Dad waited and the longer the silence, the more nervous his opponents became. He knew they would quickly become obsessed with what he might be planning, grow distracted and tip their hands.

Most people are silent, however, not because they are plotting, but because they are thinking. Some think fast and will respond quickly; others take their time, carefully choosing what they are going to say.

Within the silence of the gap lies an awesome power. To tap it does not require you to simply sit and wait. To tap this power requires you to sit and be curious.

If, during the gap, you wait with genuine curiosity to hear the response, then you are in the mode of discovery. If, however, you have already decided what you hope the response will be, then you are simply, as they say in court, “leading the witness.”

I learned the power of the gap while studying to be a coach. Coaching consists of asking questions designed to prompt someone to develop their own conclusions and solutions–NOT YOURS!

When you coach someone–an employee, a student, or your own child–you ask questions to stimulate their thinking on a certain topic:

· How would you like to approach this?
· What do you think your first step should be?
· What obstacles might occur to prevent you from accomplishing this?

When you are genuinely curious about what the other person may come up with, you are coaching, and it is magical. When you are hoping they’ll come up with your solution, you are controlling, and it is unpleasant.

This week try to become more comfortable with the gap. After you’ve asked someone a question, see if you can sit quietly, curious to hear their response. When silence falls between you, here are some things to wonder while you wait: What will he say? Does he know more about this than I? Will he come up with something I never thought of?

Let the Power of the Gap occur. You will discover (a) that those around you are smarter than you knew; and (b) (if you’re open-minded enough to admit this), that you’re learning.

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