By Kirk McCarley
Power can intoxicate. Our natural tendency is to crave it. Those with the most wealth, best possessions, greatest attractiveness, loudest voice have it. The others of us are left to clamor first for that proverbial seat at the table and then merely an opportunity to be heard.
I recall earning that seat at the table. Initially it was pretty cool to be a part of those meetings with the “so called brokers, movers, and shakers.” After attending for a while, though, they seemed to get stale. The same topics were rehashed, reevaluated. Many seemed to have their own “agenda.” Gatherings that were scheduled for 60 minutes often meandered off topic and down the proverbial rabbit hole requiring commitments of first 90 and then 100 or more minutes. People talked over one another. Often, at the eventual delayed conclusion, few could point to what exactly had been accomplished.
Amid those maddening moments, there would often be one or two attendees who would say little, if anything, during certainly the early part of the meeting and sometimes well into it. Maybe, at about minute 55 of the hour-long assembly, one of the silent clans might clear their throat, ask to speak briefly, proceed to eloquently summarize what they had heard, and offer up an idea from what had been verbalized. Often, I would watch a perceptible power shift take place to where the eyes and attention of those in the room would turn to the quiet member, a unifying voice with the ability to homogenize what had been shared without alienating others.
In the US we seem to struggle with silence and contemplation. I heard recently that the average pause time in conversation in most of the US is two seconds between one person speaking and the other responding. In the more quickly paced Northeast the gap is half that. In some of the more demonstrative European cultures the pause time is -.5 seconds. In other words, people talk over one another.
Contrast those numbers to Asian culture discussions, where silence is often tolerated for an average of eight seconds. That sounds like an eternity of time to process!
Several years back I participated in a Men’s Bible Study. Eight of us were situated around a table. One of the participants contributed likely 50% of the verbiage shared, much of it off topic and related to frustrations with one of his kids. Six others of us were responsible for nearly the remaining other half of chatter.
There was one fellow, however, who typically had no more than one or two observations during the entire hour. What he shared, though, was impactful, powerful, and timely. True nuggets of wisdom. I later learned that he was a retired pastor and former musical recording artist, making him even more fascinating and intriguing. Eyes and ears magnetically fixated on him.
One of my former co-workers had impeccable timing with knowing when and how to deliver what she had to say and how she said it. “The average attention span for meetings is 17 minutes,” she once commented. “Attendees should feel empowered to stand up, stretch, and change positions for 30 seconds before retaking their seats.” She had a quiet power. To this day, not a meeting I attend where at least the idea of a stretch fails to come up every 1000 seconds or so.
As we turn the page onto a new year, my challenge and encouragement is to consciously tune in to others. In this age where “influencing” is important, consider impact through observation. Many of us have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. What about resolving to communicate proportionally this year: 40% listening, 40% observing, and 20% speaking?
A graduate of the University of North Texas, Kirk McCarley is a Certified Professional Coach as well as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and SHRM-CP Certified. He also is a Production Assistant for both college football and basketball for ESPN and leads group cycling classes as a Certified Spinning instructor. Contact email@example.com, theseedsowercoach.com, or call 314-677-8779.