Google “awkward silence” and you will find 443,000 results, mostly focused on how to fill awkward silences and how to avoid awkward silences.
Human beings have an innate desire to fill in the blanks. Failure to do so makes us feel uncomfortable, activates insecurities, questions our cognitive abilities and forces us to disengage entirely.
However, rushing to fill awkward silences is a recipe for disaster when it comes to our brainstorming and innovation efforts.
People will say the first thing that comes to mind because we don’t want to seem like we’re not contributing or a little bit ‘slow to the party’. Consequently, we don’t allow our thought process to evolve naturally and spew up half baked ideas and thoughts.
This is particularly true of leaders who feel the need to justify their positions (and salaries) by purportedly having all of the answers and therefore being quick to respond. Oftentimes, admitting that we don’t have all of the answers, especially in a turbulent, fast moving commercial and technological landscape, is far more effective in helping us come up with better answers than simply filling the silence with the first thing that comes to mind.
Otherwise, we will waste precious time, money and other resources by pursuing the wrong thing.
The same applies not just for innovation but every day operations. Think about the meetings you attend. How much of what people say do you think is due to a pressure to contribute?
Let awkward silences be. Embrace them as a critical tool in supporting better decision making across your organisation.
This report draws on our work driving change at large companies as well as from thought leadership in the space of not just management literature, but also evolutionary biology, psychology and sociology, because in order to see things clearly and influence human behaviour, we need to think holistically.