The Power of A Pause: How to Establish Authority While Speaking

by | Oct 23, 2018

I am on a mission to help people engage and connect. Today, we are going to conquer another Connection Buster. What’s a Connection Buster? It’s something that we do or say most of the time without even realizing it that works to break trust, distance us in relationships, or stop connection before it can even start. If you are someone who gives presentations, runs meetings, or in general, has conversations, and you want to know if your intended message is the one that people are hearing, this is for you.

I was at a conference a few weeks ago and the main presenter said two phrases throughout his entire presentation that make me absolutely crazy! What are these phrases? “Makes sense?” and “Are you with me?” While I’m at it, there’s a few more that fall into this category: “Do you understand?” “Am I clear?” “Any questions?” Why are these phrases so frustrating? There’s a few reasons. When you ask them, whether it’s your intention or not, you’re undermining your credibility. You’re diminishing your authority, and this third one happened to me: you’re making people feel stupid. When the speaker was going along, at a fairly quick pace, there were a few times, one in particular, that something DIDN’T make sense. I looked around at all my colleagues in the room. They were all nodding along like they got it. When he said “make sense?” I wasn’t going to be the one person to raise my hand and say, “No, it doesn’t!” Because then I would look stupid. 

The other thing I wasn’t going to do was raise my hand and say, “No, actually it doesn’t make sense. You should probably, I don’t know, work on your material, slow down, practice some more…” Now, of course, he wasn’t really asking me to say this and of course, I would never say that because I wouldn’t want to make him look stupid! If the intention of this question is to actually make sure that what we are saying and the points we are trying to get across are clear to people, there’s a whole different way to go about it. What we need to do is get rid of the “Make sense?” “Are you with me?” “Do you follow?” questions and instead ask questions that start with the word: “what.” What thoughts do you have? What questions do you have? What resonates or what doesn’t resonate? 

You can see the difference between the two types of questions. “Make sense?” “Are you with me?” “Do you understand?” are yes-or-no questions. “What” questions are open. They start a dialogue. There’s no right or wrong thought, good or bad thought, smart or stupid thought. It’s a genuine, honest, thoughtful reaction to what you are saying. When you ask the “what” type question, “What thoughts are you having?” You need to then zip it. Be quiet. Be silent for 30 seconds and in that time, people have time to process what you’re saying and they have time to process the thoughts or the questions they might have. The other thing counting to 30 does is, it’s a pretty long gap of silence, and people don’t like awkward silences so there’s more of a chance for them to let go of their fear of asking a question or talking and fill in that silence with a comment. When they respond, here is your chance to listen to what they’re saying and if your intended message is getting across. If for some reason, you haven’t made sense to them, here’s your opportunity to explain more and to clarify. In doing so, this way you’re establishing more authority as opposed to diminishing it. 

There you have it! Our Connection Buster of using phrases like “Makes sense?” “Are you with me?” “Do you understand?” that go on to undermine your authority and diminish your credibility are gone! Instead, we’re going to use questions that start with “what” and pause and wait for a response, start a conversation, respond to what they’re hearing, and clarify and establish even more credibility. 

My challenge to you is to listen for these phrases, from your mouth and from other people’s mouths, and then to switch up and try a “what” question. Notice how the conversation goes. Notice the feedback you hear and notice if your message is the message that you wanted to get across. I hope this made sense to you, and I would love to hear from you. You can follow me at my social media links or leave comments and I will make sure to respond to you!


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