“In some cultures, it’s a virtue not to speak your mind.” This advice came to me in the course of interviewing an American client’s colleague in the Asia-Pacific region. As I reflected on it, I see it has greater meaning than the obvious merit of good cultural adaptation.
With the focus on transparency and authenticity in leadership, particularly in the US, it’s not uncommon for a more, shall we say, talkative leader, to habitually over-disclose.
Yet transparency doesn’t mean compulsive self-disclosure, so particularly for extraverts, it’s a good practice to know when NOT saying something is the right move. Selective silence is not only key to navigating the distinction between transparency and over-disclosure, but also to upgrading your influence as a leader, and tuning up your gravitas.
Here’s a quick set of questions you can consider as a self-coaching practice:
- What situations trigger you to go too far in disclosing your thoughts or feelings? High stress? High urgency? Frustration? Excitement?
- What do you need in order to avoid over-disclosing -- to catch it in real time and use selective silence instead?
- Are silent intervals challenging for you in a meeting, whether one on one, or with a group? If so, can you practice holding your tongue and seeing what the silence may bring, just as an experiment?
- When do you feel pressured to say something, what is the nature of that pressure, and what’s a good key for you to remember to let that moment pass without comment?
Being strategically and selectively silent is indeed a virtue. As Susan Scott once wrote, it's a very powerful tool to "Let the silence do the heavy lifting."