Silence Means You’re Listening

Part of my Saturday morning was spent with the friendly, energetic woman of lia sophia. I want to thank them for a great Phone Lady power hour – they truly dedicated themselves to learning – while having fun. Special thanks go to Independent Advisor and Zone Leader Arlene Marchand.

One of the discussion points of our jam-packed hour is worth sharing – the importance of silence. The ability to use – and be comfortable with – silence is vital to delivering superior customer service.

It connects to the concept I introduced last week: “How do you keep your customers and clients happy; how do you win new customers or clients? With your ears.”

Using our ears means more than listening attentively to the words people say. Using our ears means … we’re not talking!

I shared with the group how, when I was a full-time sales manager training new salespeople, I’d often surprise them by telling them to “shut up”.

Your obligation (well, I see it as an obligation) as a business owner or salesperson is to get to know your customers. The best way to do this is by asking them open-ended questions. (Perhaps I should focus on this topic in my next blog. Let me know what you think.) And once you ask the question … be quiet.

Not everyone can answer questions quickly. Some people give every question detailed consideration before they speak. You illustrate your ability to serve your clients when you give them all the time they need.

Is it awkward? Absolutely – especially on the phone. In person you know exactly what is happening because you can see them thinking. But on the phone there is only silence. It can make us squirm.

Here’s some quick tips:

  1. Preface your open-ended question to your customer or potential customer with: “You may have to think about this a bit …” or “It may take you a moment to answer this …” . No matter how quickly or slowly they formulate an answer, you are both comfortable within the silence.
  1. Ask your open-ended question and starting counting 10 seconds. Will this be awkward? Yes, yes and yes. In all likelihood your customer will start to answer long before you get to ten, but if not, you’ve shown great respect for their thought process.
  1. Start paying attention to silences in all your conversations. It’s funny but every silence has a different quality and this can be “heard” on the phone. For example, I just finished a project for a client and in my calls was able to identify that one of the descriptive words being used needed to be changed. It was creating a negative reaction on the phone. I knew this not because people told me, but because every time I used the word I could “hear” them – in the quality of the ensuing silence – rolling their eyes!

When we are truly present in our phone conversations, we can distinguish between an “I’m thinking” silence, or a “Are you kidding me” silence, or a “I don’t understand the question” silence.

  1. If you have waited in silence as long as you can and are squirming in your seat, consider asking “May I ask what you are thinking right now?” This may lead to you clarifying your question, or to their sharing with you the issues that prevent them from answering your question quickly.

Have a story about the power of silence? Or how talking too much stalled an opportunity? As always, it would be great if you would share. We can all learn from each other.


0 thoughts on “Silence Means You’re Listening”

  1. Mary Jane I truly enjoyed your session on Saturday! It is so important to practice how to handle customer calls…and that came through loud and clear. Thank you for the great tips and for building my willingness to “pick up the phone”.


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What's The Phone Lady doing?


  • Remote learning experiences + one-on-one coaching for women entrepreneurs (More info about this three-year program here.)
  • Team and individual coaching with a national moving company to refine their sales process
  • Remote half-day training for provincial tourism representatives
  • Remote seven-part sales training program for US-based SaaS
  • Remote webinar on accounts receivable communication for industrial-services company
  • Remote webinar on validation to college students in entrepreneur program
  • In-person workshop on job search skills for women in the trades
  • Remote half-day webinar on written correspondence to customers

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