Ad-libs: Don’t jump into the pause

Ad-libs: Don’t jump into the pause

By John Foust
Raleigh, NC

ConversationBrian has been selling advertising for his paper for many years. “One of the most important lessons I’ve learned was from my wife,” he told me. “One evening, when she was telling me about her day at work, she said, ‘Stop jumping into my pauses.’ She said it with a smile and a pat on my arm, but she was right. Every time she paused, I finished her sentence.

“Like a lot of sales people,” Brian explained, “I get revved up when I’m in a conversation. When there’s a lull, I have a tendency to fill up the silence. She taught me the importance of allowing the other person to finish their thought on their own.”

That lesson has helped Brian in his business relationships. His advertisers stay more engaged in conversations, and he learns more about what’s really on their minds.

Here are some ways to deal with pauses:

1. Bite your tongue. When the other person pauses, the first thing to do is to resist the temptation to take over the conversation. Simply tell yourself, “This may not be easy, but stay quiet and give them a chance to collect their thoughts.”

2. Watch your facial expression. Body language is more powerful than words. Even if you’re silent, you’ll communicate a negative message if you frown or show impatience. Keep a pleasant expression and maintain comfortable, low intensity eye contact.

3. Nod slowly. If you’re listening carefully, it will be easy to nod your head. There’s no need to stay in constant motion like a bobblehead doll. Simply show the other person that you’re paying close attention. Think of it as patient eagerness. You’re looking forward to hearing what they’re going to say next – and you’re willing to give them the time they need.

It will be natural to add a subtle “Uh hum.” This is a verbal nod, which means, “I’m with you. I’m paying attention. I care about your ideas.”

4. Lean forward. The best leaders are known to instinctively lean forward in their chairs when listening. It’s as if they want to cut the distance the other’s person’s words have to travel before reaching their ears.

Again, this will come naturally if you’re in step with the other person. By leaning forward during a pause, you send another silent, non-interruptive signal that you are eager to hear what’s next.

5. Repeat the speaker’s last phrase as a question. If the other person seems to be genuinely stuck in finding the right words, you can help them verbalize their thought with a simple questioning technique.

Let’s say the other person expresses doubt by saying, “I’m concerned about (pause)…” If you jump in and ask, “What exactly are your concerned about?” that may be too abrupt. But if you repeat, “You’re concerned?” as a question, you can help them think it through.

So the next time someone pauses in a conversation, put your high-energy sales personality aside. It’s better to ease into the pause than to jump into the pause.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information:

(c) Copyright 2015 by John Foust. All rights reserved.