Starfish Performance Consultants

Maximizing Performance Through People with Terry Crow
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Power of the Pause in Performance Conversations

During the twenty plus years I have spent as a manager and adviser to other managers, I have picked up a few helpful tips to employ during discussions with people about performance.  One of the gold nuggets I have discovered is that well-placed pauses can be powerful and quite effective during performance conversations.  Managers that are skilled at using the power of the pause can improve the quality of their performance conversations with others.

What is the purpose of the pause in this context?

To understand this better, let’s look at what happens during an interaction between people about performance.  At the heart of any successful performance interaction is that of cultivating dialogue, which means we as managers encourage the exchange of information and ideas. There is a natural rhythm or flow during the discussion that consists of listening, speaking and responding.  This holds true even if the topic of the conversation is potentially an emotional or controversial one.

Pauses can be used during conversations about performance that are beneficial for our employees and also for us as managers.

For Employees

Pauses can be used by us as mangers to help regulate the pace and temperature of the discussion.  When situations get heated up or intensify to a problematic level, a well positioned pause can help slow down the pace and cool the temperature.

For example, let’s say you and Joe are discussing different versions about what happened to cause an important client to take her business to a competitor.  Joe is taking no ownership of the problem and is getting extremely loud and borderline belligerent in his remarks about the issue.  This might be an opportune time to insert a pause along with a period of silence. This almost always has the effect of changing the energy mix of the interaction.

We can also make use of pauses to give employees space for consideration or reflection during performance interactions.  It can be easy to ask a question and expect a quick response when a more effective approach would be to ask, pause, and give the person the space to consider their response.  Pauses are also more beneficial in situations where problem-solving, creativity and innovation are important.

For Managers

Another reason to employ the pause is to allow us as managers the time to reflect on what we want to say before reacting to comments or situations. These periods of silence give us a chance to formulate the real responses we want to articulate, and not just spout out reactions that we might regret later.

Pauses are helpful for us to regulate our own pace and emotional temperature, just as they work for our employees.  When we feel ourselves heating up or getting carried away by the performance discussion, inserting a well-placed pause will usually work to get us back into the natural rhythm of the interaction.

Finally, we can use pauses or brief periods of silence to emphasize what we are about to say.  Pauses have a way of creating space that leads to anticipation and a heightened sense of curiosity.  When we have something to say that is important or that we want to emphasize, inserting a pause will usually result in increased attention from the other person(s) in the performance discussion.

These are just a few suggestions to consider employing in future performance interactions with others.  When used at the right time, pauses can be a great technique to use to increase the effectiveness and quality of performance conversations.

Let me know if you have used pauses in your performance interactions.  Have they helped you?

Categories: Management, Performance
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