Value times of silence in conversations

image.001Several years ago I heard the Juilliard String Quartet present a lecture/recital. Their playing was wonderful, of course, but my biggest take-away from the event had nothing to do with music but rather the quality of their conversation. Through their example I learned how people can have a meaningful, respectful, and profitable conversation. While I was intrigued by what they had to say, I was particularly fascinated by how they conversed.

Before the quartet played, they shared their thoughts about the work. It was a relaxed and thoughtful conversational atmosphere in which each player had the opportunity to speak.

One at a time, a player would share his thoughts, and when he was finished there would be silence— sometimes lasting 10-15 seconds—before another member of the quartet would begin to share his thoughts. The group had such high respect for what each colleague was sharing that they allowed time for each statement to “sink in” before another thought was introduced into the conversation. Also, while one person shared, the others seemed to truly listen; they were not just using that time to craft what they would say when it was their turn.

For instance, one member might say, “The thing I enjoy most about the second movement of the Beethoven is that it borrows the theme from the first movement but develops it in a different way.” Then there would be silence. And then another player might offer, “At first glance, the themes seem to compete with each other, but near the end of the movement one understands that they are actually complementary.” Then another pause…and so on.

The key element in this respectful and profitable conversation was the moments of silence.

When was the last time you conversed with a group of people and the conversation contained times of silence? It is a rare occurrence. Normally, we try to anticipate the end of someone’s sentence and then compete with others for who gets to speak next. Sometimes we don’t even allow a person to finish his thought; the beginning of a new sentence overlaps the end of his.

This concept is so foreign to most people that the only way I’ve been able to incorporate it is to discuss it with a particular group and then practice. I did this with my family. I distributed this essay, we talked about it, and then staged a trial conversation. At first, it was difficult and awkward—it’s hard to change deeply-ingrained patterns—but eventually the conversation became well-paced, courteous, and profitable.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Click here to read more about how to have a thoughtful, respectful conversation.


What? – Conversations become more thoughtful, respectful, and productive when they include times of silence.
So what? – Incorporate times of silence into your conversations.
Now what? – If you have a group of people with whom you frequently converse, visit with them about this essay and try to incorporate the principles into your discourse.

Leaders – Work with your team on how they talk to each other. Often, changing the structure of conversations will help. For instance, in staff meetings, allow every team member to respond to a particular issue, uninterrupted by others. That way, every voice will be heard, and it establishes a slower pace for the dialogue.

Beware of the ambiguity of meanings

rsan3_hiNo two brains contain exactly the same “meaning” for any word, expression, or concept. The meanings are embedded in the people, not in the words. Karl Albrecht

When I first read this statement by Albrecht, I was on vacation with my wife, Mary. I decided to submit the theory to rigorous scientific testing, so at dinner I shared his statement and then suggested a particular word for the two of us to discuss. “Mary, tell me what the word romance means to you and I’ll share what it means to me.”

I should have picked a different word. Or, after Mary told me what romance meant to her, I should have said, “Ditto.” Our conversation was spirited but helpful. We soon realized that Albrecht’s theory is correct.

Several weeks later, at a family dinner, we all explored the term curiosity. Once again, a wide range of interpretations were given.

While having lunch with a group of friends, I asked each person to share what the the term intelligence means. The conversation was lively.

Each exercise underscored the fact that, indeed, every person has his or her own meaning for every word expression, or concept. Because each person had a nuanced perspective on each word, our discussions enhanced each person’s understanding of the particular term.

The implications of this theory are significant.

  • It helps explain why good communication is so difficult.
  • It underscores the importance of Steven Covey’s advice – “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
  • It exposes our own narrow-minded view of the world.
  • It challenges us to seek a more expanded and deeper understanding of all things.
  • It challenges us to be more careful and thorough when communicating to others.

One woman shares her first major encounter with the slippery slope of semantics.

“When I was four, I began taking ice skating lessons. I’d watched figure skating in the Winter Olympics and thought it looked awesome. Soon, though, I realized that ice skating was a lot colder and more painful than I’d expected (and I was less graceful than I’d hoped). I began to dread my lessons, but my parents encouraged me to finish the ones they’d already paid for.

“One week, I got sick and missed a class. My mom was able to get me into a class later in the week; a ‘make-up lesson.’

“All week, I looked forward to being instructed in the proper application of makeup. What a treat to get a break from ice skating to focus on the finer points of Little Mermaid lipstick and Hello Kitty nail polish!

“I remember quite powerfully how disappointed I was when I got to the ice rink to discover that the ‘make-up lesson’ was just more ice skating, with my same old teacher in the same old rink.”

Rudyard Kipling was a bit more poetic when he said, “We are all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


What? – Reread Albrecht’s statement.
So what? – Communication is more difficult than any of us can imagine.
Now what? – Work hard at minimizing misunderstandings that occur because of the mixed meanings of words.

Leaders – Good communication among all groups in your organization is essential. Bossidy and Charan say, “Dialogue is the core of culture and the basic unit of work. How people talk to each other absolutely determines how well the organization will function.” Discuss with your team, how the ambiguity of word meanings might adversely affect your internal and external communication.

Get into a larger tank

fish in tankThere is a species of fish – the Japanese carp, known as the Koi – that will grow in size only in proportion to the size of the body of water it is in. When placed in a small aquarium the fish will only grow to be two or three inches long. If placed in a larger body of water, it will grow to six to ten inches. When placed in a large lake, it can reach its full size of two or three feet in length.

In like manner, your environment can inhibit and limit your personal growth and development. It may be the job you’re in—although you feel secure and the work is tolerable, you’re stuck in a mind-numbing environment and your head is hitting the proverbial glass ceiling. It may be the town you live in—the provincial mentality is stifling. The friends you associate with may be stymying—you may need a more intellectually invigorating group.

But the right environment can stimulate your growth and help you reach your potential. Fortunately, you do have control over this dimension of life; you can choose where you work, you can move to a city that inspires you, and you can choose friends that will stretch you.

To illustrate this idea, I’ll use two of my family members.

After graduating from college, my daughter, Lauren, made some bold moves that placed her in a “large pond.” First, she moved from a small college town in Texas to New York City. She got a nice and adequate job, but after working there for a few years, she realized she needed a greater challenge, so she went to work at American Express. Soon, AMEX moved her to Singapore for a year, then back to NYC. In the meantime, she completed a master’s degree from Columbia. Can you sense the mix of challenges, thrills, fear, insecurities and joys involved in making these moves?

My son-in-law, Jonathan, is a board certified emergency room physician. He has served two tours-of-duty in the Navy. For one of his assignments he was stationed at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. It was one of the busiest trauma centers in the world. He saw more and learned more in nine months than some physicians would see and learn in a lifetime here in the states. He got into a larger pond.

Don’t underestimate the courage it takes to change environments and the effort it takes to adjust to and flourish in a new one. It can be intimidating and challenging. You may even fail. But it’s worth the risk and effort. Life is too short to waste; it’s not a dress rehearsal, and it’s the only one you get.

You don’t want this written on your tombstone: Died, 55 years old; buried, 70 years old.

Question: Share your thoughts about this essay. You can leave a comment by clicking here.


What? – Our personal growth and development can be enhanced or stymied by our environment.
So what? – Beware of the times in life when you are too comfortable and unchallenged. You may need to “get into a larger tank.”
Now what? – Analyze where you are in life. Does your environment provide the room and stimulus for personal growth? If not, what will you do?

Leaders – Do you create environments and opportunities in your organization in which people can grow and develop? Consider each member of your team and customize a plan that will optimize their personal development.

The Creative Habit

About half way through reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, I turned to my cat, Maxie, and said, “I am reading a great book.” If you are in any way creative (music, art, writing, dance) this is a must read. If you’re not artistic at all, this is a must read. Twyla gives us a peak inside her profound mind.

Be frugal – get rich slowly



The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket. -Will Rogers

The Millionaire Next Door, written by Stanley and Danko, is full of surprises. The authors’ massive research project sought to determine the profile of the average American family that had a financial net worth of at least a million dollars. They discovered that typical millionaire family members:

  • Do not wear designer watches
  • Buy clothes at stores like Dillard’s and J.C. Penney
  • Drive cars that are 3-5 years old; usually a domestic model
  • Do not live in an upscale neighborhood

One of the key commonalities among this group is that they are frugal and live well below their means.

It pays to be frugal.

Both my wife and I grew up poor, so being frugal was embedded in our lifestyle from childhood. I’m so frugal that I’ve been banned from eating at all-you-can-eat restaurants in 35 states.

  • We still use coupons, shop for good deals, wear clothes a long time, and drive our cars to exhaustion.
  • Every year of our marriage (36 and counting) we have lived by an annual budget. It’s the best way to manage money (which does need to be managed).
  • Every December we do an audit of our expenses, looking for areas that we can tweak and save money.
  • As our income has risen, we’ve kept our living expenses the same and we save the difference.

We’ve discovered that small savings add up to significant amounts of money. Our frugality has paid off. We’re one of the families that Stanley and Danko talk about in their book.

On a commercial level, the benefit of being frugal can be profound. An article in the New York Times magazine noted: “While working the line at Harley-Davidson’s factory in York, Pa., Mark Dettinger noticed a small problem. The plastic piece that held electrical parts to the front of a motorcycle, a piece about the size of a hardcover book, wasn’t fitting correctly. Every time a new bike came down the line, it took a few extra shoves to push it into place. In fact, it took an extra 1.2 seconds.

Dettinger, who had spent some 20 years at the York plant, knew that every second counted. With 400 motorcycles built each shift, on two shifts a day, an extra 1.2 seconds per bike added up to 2,200 lost bikes annually. Millions could be lost in revenue. Maybe it wasn’t such a small problem. [New York Times Magazine, Feb. 2, 2014, pages 16-17, by Adam Davidson]

Benjamin Franklin said, “The way to wealth depends on just two words, industry and frugality.” Stanley and Danko would agree, and so would I.

Question: Are there any downsides to being frugal? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


What? – Frugality is a good thing and longterm, it makes a huge difference.
So what? – Be careful with your finances. A few good practices (abide by a budget, always get multiple bids, audit expenses, etc.) can make a big difference. It’s never too late to start being financially prudent.
Now what? – Gain control of your finances and be thrifty.

Leaders – When was the last time you intentionally and thoroughly looked at your organization’s expenses with the goal of saving money? Is frugality part of your organization’s culture?