I had a guitar teacher who once who told me that the notes you play during a solo are just as important as the silences you play. I remember that my first thought was: “Wait, what do you mean ‘play a silence’? Isn’t silence just something that happens when I’m not playing notes?” Well, it is if you don’t leave space intentionally—and that’s the point. You probably have an opportunity to use silence more intentionally when you speak to connect more and get better results.


But why does creating space intentionally work? Isn’t it just a wasted opportunity to be conveying information? And doesn’t it create awkwardness? For the most part, no on both counts. If you’re worried about it, maybe you’re caught up in the idea that productivity means saying a lot and doing things faster. I invite you to consider the power of silent space.


In a team building workshop I deliver, I play for the participants a famous piece of music titled Flight of the Bumblebee. If you’ve heard it, you know that it’s wall-to-wall notes from start to finish and that it evokes a bee buzzing around busily. I ask the participants to consider what it would feel like to work in an environment that felt like that piece of music. Some people say words like driven, and purposeful; but most say words like frenetic, tiring, overwhelming, and unsustainable. It’s just too much non-stop activity!


In music there are symbols to designate silence: rests. They’re like “anti-notes.” Without them, music would progress in a persistent, mechanical way that would lack contrast, expression, and even meaning. And it’s SO much work to figure out what’s going on. Could you imagine trying to read this blog article without any spaces between the words or punctuation between the sentences? Well, you don’t want your communications to feel that way to your audience—whether you’re having a conversation, telling a story, or pitching an idea at an important meeting.


So, what’s the best way to start leaving more space? You gotta make friends with silent space. Sounds simple, but we’re often very uncomfortable with it. We’re afraid that leaving space could signal that something’s wrong or that we don’t know what we’re doing, but start observing skilled communicators and how they use space. You’ll notice how effective silence is, how it communicates command and confidence. It’s not about using a dramatic pause just to be “dramatic.” A well-placed pause really allows ideas to sink in. It’s in the spaces that the people you’re speaking to make connections and reach important conclusions.


Yes, it’s possible to leave so much space that your audience could wonder what’s going on, but most of us could benefit from leaving more space. If you don’t have any silent space in your spoken communication, at some point your audience will interpret what you’re saying as just sound—or worse, noise—and stop paying attention.


Practice giving your audience some silent space when you speak and notice how it improves the effectiveness of your communication at work.



Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free exploratory meeting.