The Rule of Awkward Silence

We are often afraid of “awkward silence”, and there are all sorts of discussions and recipes for avoiding it. However, this article tells us that we should embrace it.

The author noticed that Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, probably the two most intelligent people on Earth in this century, both have a habit when facing challenging questions: they’ll keep silent for a quite long time, from 5 seconds to 15 seconds or even 20 seconds. These two smart guys, even though excellent in thinking and processing information, they take their time to think, i.e. they embrace the rule of awkward silence.

“The rule of awkward silence is simple: When faced with a challenging question, instead of answering, you pause and think deeply about how you want to answer. “

Why they both practice this rule? What is it good for? First, it is great for critical thinking and helps us to give deeper and more thoughtful answers. Second, and maybe more profund, it allows our emotions get checked and allow us to deliver the responses less emotionally and more intelligently.

It’s interesting that our brains uses different part in thinking based on our emotions. When we are calm and rational, we typically engage a part of our brain known as the prefrontal cortex; but when we are under pressure, we typically use another part of our brain known as the amygdala, which is known as “emotional hijack.” By pause and slow down, we allow us to calm down, keep our emotions under control, and use the rational part to respond.

The example he used in the article is also one of my favorites: how Steve Jobs answered the tough question when he just returned to Apple and an audience said to him “You don’t know what you’re talking about” in the 1997 WWDC. If you are interested, check it out here.

So next time, when we face a tough question, especially questions making us emotionally uncomfortable, don’t be afraid of taking some time, embrace the rule of awkward silence and use it to it’s advantage.

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