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How to avoid those awkward conversational pauses

Are you afraid of awkward pauses in the workplace? Depending on your personality, you may be worried about making others feel at ease, or you yourself may just be uncomfortable with silence. Have no fear -- sometimes a little lag in a conversation can be crucial. Here's how to harness the power of the pause.

Pause only when it's useful. Routinely pausing just for the sake of it shouldn't be your goal. "Pausing when speaking is imperative to being heard only when the listener needs a pause," says Stuart Diamond, author of Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life. "As any good reporter or negotiator knows, one has to communicate based on how one's audience best hears the communication. One can imagine some listeners who would find pauses annoying."  On the other hand, he notes that in some cultures, a small pause can signal a respectful reflection. The key is knowing who you're dealing with. "There is no one size fits all in dealing with others."

Consider alternatives to silence. If you're confident enough to be absolutely silent if you need a moment to think or want to give your conversational partner time to consider what you've said, go ahead. But true silence can be particularly agonizing for some people or in some situations, such as salary negotiation. In the case of the latter, Jack Chapman, author of Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute, says to instead use a four-letter word (no, not that one). For instance, say you're at the point in the discussion when your HR manager or boss gives you a salary number. "When you hear the employer's figure, or range, repeat the figure or top of the range, and say 'Hmmm,'" Chapman advises. This is a form of negotiating tennis. "It puts the burden of making the offer attractive back on the employer's shoulders," he says.

Use it every time you speak to a group. If you'd rather get a root canal than exercise your public speaking skills, the power of the pause can help you get a handle on your fear. In a recent blog post for the Harvard Business review, corporate coach Jerry Weiss wrote that pausing between sentences not only gives your audience a chance to reflect on what you've just said, it can prevent you from rushing because of nerves and adrenaline. His tip? Make sure to lower your voice at the end of each phrase, which will help you pause naturally. 

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Wouterhagens

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