Julie Thorson

Recovering extroverts pay attention to what I’m about to say. Being quiet is OK. 

Speaking from experience, disciplining yourself to not speak is as important if not more important than talking. I’ve always been impressed by (and yes, my husband is one of them) people who say little, and when they do speak, everyone pays attention. For those of us who really like to talk, this is next to impossible. 

It is possible, however. A few years ago, I wrote about putting yourself on a word diet. 

The piece I didn’t mention in the 2019 blog is how powerful silence can be. I have a great teammate who reminds me often, “I’m going to sleep on it before I share my opinion.” This approach used to drive me crazy. With time, I’ve come to appreciate this style.  

The quiet in leadership is tricky. It can be interpreted in so many ways. If you say nothing, you risk the perception of people thinking you are uninterested or not caring. I would offer the opposite. If we spend more time thinking rather than blindly talking without thinking, the workplace culture may be a better place. 

How many times have emotions fueled your conversations or emails? Logic becomes lost, noise takes over, and unnecessary drama ensues. The need to be heard overtakes the need for reasoning and sharing facts and opinions. Introducing nothing or waiting for a day or two may, at times, be the most powerful way to communicate. 

Easier said than done. I continue to practice this often. Notice I said practice, I get it wrong a lot! There are many times I will rethink a conversation and say to myself, “Did I really need to say that?” Most times, the answer is no. 

Nerves, emotions, reactions, self-doubt, eagerness and all sorts of feelings can lead us down the path of saying too much. For people like me who like to communicate, we feel using words is a strength and may get addicted to using too many words. Another reason for the word discipline. Deciding when and how to use those words the most effective way is a muscle to be developed. 

Asking an open-ended question and waiting for an answer is also powerful. Too often, we jump in without letting the other person think. Silence makes us uncomfortable, and yet it is so powerful.

Slowing down the pace of conversation and welcoming quiet is a discipline. I’ve been fortunate to work with people over the years who have mastered this skill. I in no way have mastered it, but as a leader, I do look for opportunities to practice. 

At times, I find myself in a place where I misunderstand people who are quiet. Recently I had a conversation and had to ask, “What does your silence mean?” It was a strange question, I’m sure, but it led to a deeper understanding for both of us. 

He reminded me of how he listens, reflects, takes it all in and will speak when he feels he needs to, not just to speak. His engagement is there. He just doesn’t feel the need to always contribute to the conversation. This was an exchange that helped build our trust and understanding with one another. I am very glad I asked because there was a chance I might misunderstand his silence as not being interested. That wasn’t the case at all. 

The quiet in leadership is powerful. It’s a simple tool, one we forget about using deliberately. It’s the best reminder before you speak or send an email. A final hurdle to consider. Can this wait, or does it need to be said at all? Would another time and place be more meaningful? What is my motivation? If your motivation is driven inwardly, maybe rethink what you are about to say or write. 

Don’t misunderstand that quiet isn’t apathy. Quiet is caring.  Sometimes the most powerful way to communicate is to be quiet. When we slow down, we care for others and for ourselves. We are more considerate and thoughtful. We are leaders. 

Julie Thorson was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. She currently co-facilitates LeadingAge Iowa’s Leadership Academy. She is a Leading Age Academy fellow and former coach. The Head Coach (president and CEO) of Friendship Haven, a life plan community in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart. A former part-time nursing home social worker, she is a licensed nursing home administrator and completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program in 2019.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.