Pause Power

Sometimes the most important part of communication is not the words we use, but the space between the words. We need to learn to use the pause to communicate effectively. Herman Melville once said, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended to by silence.”

Pico Iyer in a Time editorial, “The Eloquent Sounds of Silence,” wrote, “A ‘moment of silence’ is the highest honor we can pay someone; it is the point at which the mind stops and something else takes over.”  We need to learn to use silence, the pause in speaking, to add power to our communication.

Pause to keep the other person talking. When the other person stops talking, he/she expects us to respond. If we pause momentarily, the other person may add a comment that may be the most important idea of the conversation up to that point. When we are able to keep the other person talking, we listen further and have more information with which to make an intelligent response.

 Pause to avoid interrupting the other person. Often we are so concerned with our responses that we don’t really let the other person finish talking before we start giving our opinions. The pause communicates that we really are concerned with listening thoroughly to what the other person has to say. The pause helps us pace the flow of communication. We don’t give the feeling that we are rushing the conversation when we make a conscious effort to pause as the other person finishes his/her thought.

Pause to give yourself time to think of what to say. When rushing to make a point, what we actually say may not be as coherent as it would be if we paused a moment to structure the comment before beginning to speak. Just pausing a few seconds before speaking allows us to think of what point we want to make. Usually a three-count is the length of pause that gives you time to think and yet is not distracting to the other person. Simply pause three deliberate beats and begin your answer. After a little practice the appropriate length of the pause (one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three) will be natural for you. If we start speaking immediately, what we actually say may not be the point we really want to make. “Foot-in-mouth-disease” may result because we did not pause to think carefully about what we were going to say and to whom it was being said.

Finally, pause to take a note. This works especially well when the information shared is important to write down. Don’t be afraid to pause to jot a note. This gives credence to what the other person is saying–that you want to remember it so much that you are recording it. Knowing you are taking notes also helps the other person seek to be more organized and concise. In addition, this kind of pause allows the other person to look away and then back to you so you don’t get into a staring contest as you are talking.

As we can see, pauses or silence between words can have many meanings. We can give much more meaning to our words by the spaces between them. Songs communicate a specific message, adding emotion, when the singer pauses. The speaking communicator can do the same thing.

Remember that in talking, it is not just the words we speak; it is also the silence between the words. There is power in the pause!


Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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