Pause for Effectiveness: 9 Powerful Times to Pause

Your team needs you, you respond. They have questions, you have answers. The phone rings, you pick it up. Great leadership? A pause can be more powerful. Speakers pause for effect; Great leaders pause for effectiveness.

A powerful pause is a wildly under utilized leadership tool. Awkward silence creates opportunity. I’ve never regretted a pause. I’ve got buckets-full of “I wish I had paused” moments. When in doubt, pause more often.

9 Powerful Pauses

A pause gives you both time to think. Pauses calm emotions. Pregnant pauses give birth to vibrant ideas. 7 situations where pausing is most powerful. Let’s pass the pause, what would you add?

  1. Compliments – You’ve been given a tremendous compliment. Pause and take it in. Look them back in the eye, with a sincere thank you. Pause amplifies appreciation.
  2. Sad News – Sad or disappointing news is often shocking. It’s difficult to know what to say. Give your heart time to adjust. Connect–then speak.
  3. Anger (yours) – Sometimes a grown-up “time-out” is the best remedy. Step back. Think more. If you really want to say “it,” there will be time. You will likely find better words after a breather.
  4. Anger (theirs) – They’re spitting teeth. Accusations. Exaggerated facts. Misrepresented viewpoints. You’re tempted to respond immediately. You must clear it up. They interrupt, you talk faster, or louder. They’ll hear you more clearly after a good pause. If you stop talking so will they. They may even breathe in the process.
  5. Ideas (yours) – If your idea’s that great, it will still be there after others have had a chance to talk. In fact, it will be even better if you use it to build on what others have to say. Let others talk first, then share.
  6. 6. Ideas (theirs) – Pause. Let them keep going. Let them build on their thinking. Nod, smile, encourage. Try not saying a word, until they get it all out.
  7. No Ideas – It’s amazing how often people will talk until they have something to say. If you don’t know, go slow. Quiet creates contribution.
  8. Silence – Now it’s even more tempting to fill the space. No one else is talking, and you’re the leader. Best for you to set the stage? Maybe. Or what if you said, “Yikes, this one’s tough. let’s all take a minute to consider the options.”
  9. Ring-a-ling – Most of the time when the phone rings or the text beeps in, we answer right away. Sometimes necessary. Sometimes not. Consider a pause to stay in the moment. Then call back with complete attention.
  10. What would you add?

Posted in Communication and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. When someone pulls the fire alarm. You’ll need to evacuate the building, but first you have to decide which exit is the best to take. When someone rushes up to you with “We have a major problem…..” Often in an “emergency” situation, no one else has paused yet.

  2. #10 – for me it is sending a thoughtful email. Sometimes too thoughtful. Have I carefully applied empathy to the receiver? Have I excluded everything that is fluff? Often the fluff (what the author considers fluff) can get have unintended consequences. Did I use language that is … too transparent?

  3. Similar to #1…When I give a compliment.

    It can be awkward to receive it (or perhaps they are using the pause themselves).

    So I like to throw out a compliment and then shut up.

  4. And when someone asks a question.

    My default is to have already answered it in my head about 2 seconds into the question. So, I purposefully pause for what seems like an eternity (3 seconds). That allows me to actually think about what I want to say and more importantly, what they need to hear.

  5. When I ask a tough question that doesn’t have an immediate answer, I need to pause. I too often assume that they need clarification or another layer or a point in the right direction. What they really need is my silence, time to process, and to find the answers in themselves.

  6. We need to pause to write, draw, something beautiful
    We need to pause to watch, appreciate something beautiful
    We need to pause whenever we need to communicate not with our lips but with our eyes, hands …

  7. GREAT article! I have two instances: Before providing a presentation, I take about a 15 second pause, which seems like an eternity. The audience becomes extremely focused and quiet and I invite them to take a breath with me.

    A time I need to get better at pausing is right before eating. I know it would make me slow down, enjoy the food and be more mindful. 🙂

  8. Karin
    Thank you for your continued great posts.
    Lao Tzu once said “Nature never hurries yet everything is accomplished” and I think this post is just what the doctor ordered for today’s rushed and harried managers.Pausing, reflecting and then acting can eliminate so much conflict and stress at the workplace.

  9. Pingback: Carnival of Quality Management Articles and Blogs – June 2013 – The world is too small? or Is it?

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