You can never go wrong by being silent

So I was listening to the Lex Fridman podcast. In that particular episode, his guest was Walter Isaacson - currently, the most famous biographer. I've also read a few of his books - the super bestseller Steve Jobs autobiography included.

Lex and Isaacson were talking about interviewing and Lex asked his guest how to handle silences in an interview. He mentioned that e.g., Elon Musk sometimes goes silent for as long as 4 minutes.

For many people silences are awkward. So they immediately try to fill up the silence by saying something - anything - only for there not to be silence.

Now, what Isaacson said, really struck me. So much so that I wanted to write about it.

He said, "You can't go wrong with being silent". Now, he meant it in a context. it's not an absolute - in certain scenarios remaining silent is the worst thing to do. But this is not what this blog post is about.

When it comes to having a certain conversation, silence can be an extremely powerful tool. Especially deliberate silences.

The principle is this. The person who feels the need to fill up the void is in a weaker position than the one who is quiet (and is okay with it). The latter person has more 'power'. Why? Because the 'silent' guy is making the other guy react.

Even though this is not exactly what Isaacson meant, I wanted to talk about that aspect as well.

What Isaacson meant, is that, if you - as the interviewer - are okay with silence while your subject is also silent, at one point, they'll open up even more and continue talking. It's a sign of a great listener - not to feel the impulse to fill the void.

There are more situations where you can't go wrong with silence.

Sometimes we say or do things without really thinking them through. We act based on our current emotional charge. So we may say things we later regret. Yet, if we had waited just for a few minutes, the emotional charge would've been gone and we would've been able to think more clearly.

I think everyone can relate to this last part.

Prefer silence, over the first impulse.