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The Power of the Pause: Part I

Someone asks you a question and you reply immediately. Your phone dings with an email or text notification and you tap out a response immediately. Does this sound familiar? We tend to respond immediately for several reasons. Momentum. Social convention. The dopamine hit of incoming message notifications from our ever-present phones. Effective leaders don’t reply immediately. They pause. They intentionally formulate responses. In this two-part blog series, you’ll learn about the power of the pause.

What You’ll Learn

  • In part one, we examine the impulse to immediately reply to verbal communications. When you pause, you become a more effective communicator and leader.

  • In part two, we'll examine the impulse to respond immediately to notifications or external deadlines. You’ll learn why most external deadlines are not real. When you pause before responding, you become a more intentional leader.


Developing good executive communications skills is critical. When you are an effective communicator, people perceive you as a more senior and competent leader. You deliver your message more persuasively. People understand the value you bring.

It’s a human tendency to reply immediately when you’re asked a question or when it’s “your turn” to speak. I coach all my executive clients to intentionally break this habit. Effective communicators don’t give in to momentum. They don’t reply immediately. They listen to the question and purposefully pause before they speak.

I don’t suggest you pause for a long, painfully awkward time. Wait two to three seconds. Take enough time to break the momentum of automatically replying. When I coach executives on this technique, I suggest that they listen to the question, pause to think, and then speak.

Why? You accomplish many things with a short pause. You give yourself time to do many valuable things that contribute to your effectiveness as a leader and as a communicator. You absorb information. You understand context. You pick up non-verbal or interpersonal cues. You prepare and structure your reply.

Let’s look at a few specific examples.

Pausing in a Job Interview

I suggest you pause before answering questions in a job interview. This gives you time to assess the question. What information is the hiring manager looking for? Pausing gives you an opportunity to gather your thoughts. You can connect your answer with your value proposition and choose the best anecdote or story to illustrate it.

Pausing also gives your listener time to stop going through his or her interview questions. He or she can focus on you and listen your answer. You are cognitively guiding them to pay attention to you after your brief – and curated – silence. This gives you an opportunity to ensure that your value proposition is being heard. [LINK to cognitive load] You can’t do any of this without a brief pause to absorb, think, and plan.

Pausing in Meetings or Presentations

Too often in group situations, people wait for a break just so they can interject their own point or opinion. This creates a rhythm of listening to reply. Pausing shifts that balance so you instead listen to understand.

That extra time also allows you to understand if people are engaged. Are they buying in to your ideas? Are they bored? Is your presentation hitting the mark?

A pause also recaptures time so you can absorb information about who is in the room. How are they feeling? What seems to be important to them? You can assimilate this information and decide where to vector the conversation or meeting to next.

This is why good leaders listen more than they speak. When you don’t take time to pause, you don’t have time to think strategically before responding.

In part 2, we’ll explore why it’s important to pause before replying to emails or external deadlines. Stay tuned -

Do you have questions or thoughts on the power of the pause? If you’d like to learn more about developing your executive communications skill, contact me today about executive coaching.

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