I was working with an emerging leader who was excited to sharpen their skills at guiding a team to co-create a new program that was emotionally riddled (he's a brave one for sure!).
As I observed him in action, I noticed a quirk that was limiting engagement. During meetings, he would pose a lot of questions seeking feedback. Then, wait a moment for someone to answer. As soon as the silence started to feel awkward, he began talking again.
You might know what happened next. No one spoke up!
This is one of the biggest mistakes unseasoned leaders and managers make when facilitating meetings. They can't handle awkward silence. And since no one else is speaking up, they fill the air by babbling, which tends to sew confusion.
A skilled facilitator and leader is able to bring forward the gifts, knowledge and skills of the collective. And in order for that to occur, you have to let the awkward silence happen.
I always encourage emerging leaders like him to take a deep, heart-focused breath when they start to feel uncomfortable with the silence. And then another one. The silence, while awkward, is making way for other voices to be heard.
This is especially important when we are having virtual meetings. There are other barriers to people speaking up in video meetings, like delays or the extra step of unmuting.
The one thing you can do about awkward silence is to get comfortable letting it happen.
As this emerging was able to get comfortable with awkward silence, he not only did got more engagement. The team also became fully vested in co-creating a program that surpassed his expectations. That's because their voices mattered; they felt heard and seen.
So the next time you're navigating an important conversation, ask your question. Then breathe through the awkward silence. Eventually, someone will speak up. And if that doesn't happen, instead of talking some more, simply reframe the question to get to the essence of what you're asking their feedback on.