Shut Up (No, Really, Shhhhh….Don’t Talk)

I’m guessing many of you found this headline a bit shocking – it felt shocking to write it.

Why, then, did I?

It’s excellent advice.

Why is it top-of-mind at the moment?

Well, I was reading the fascinating piece by Robert Caro in the New Yorker which includes the process Caro uses for his Pulitzer-Prize-winning books and he notes that if you were to look at his reporter’s notebooks over and over you would see “S.U.” scribbled down.

Shut. Up.

Why? Because, as Caro notes in this NPR interview, “…silence is a great weapon. You know, you ask somebody a question, he doesn’t want to answer it. If I just remember to shut up— more often than you’d think—after a while, there’s a human need to fill silences. So, they’ll fill it by telling you what you want to know.”

There is a human need to fill silence…

The tricky part is when it’s always being filled by you.

What do I mean by that?

Let’s take salary negotiation as an example.

Too often, when I’m coaching people for job interviews, I notice that—when asked how much they are looking for—the candidate will say, “I’m looking for X….”  Pause, “but if that’s too much I totally understand….”



Name your figure and stop talking.

As you think about it, I’m guessing you’ll notice that S.U. is also good advice for traffic stops, team building exercises, dates, and dinner parties….

Now depending on what you’re seeking to achieve, you will probably want to think about your listening face** while you’re sitting silently. Are you a hopeful terrier? A Mona Lisa look alike? An addition to Mount Rushmore?

The primary thing to remember, however, is that when in doubt ask your question/name your price/state your case and:



** For more information on how to organize an effective listening face, take a look at “Sure There’s Toastmasters….But What About Facemasters?