A silence in a group once gave me twenty years of work. I was asked to see the working dynamics of the top executive team of a major insurance company. My pitch to the CEO was to let me observe his meeting for an hour. If, when the time ran out, I couldn’t say something that was of real value to the CEO or the team, we would part ways.
Twenty-five minutes into the meeting the CEO said to the group, “On this next item, we are all in agreement that we should spend the $12 million on “the integrated desktop, right?” The team followed up with a deafening silence. I saw my chance to add value. “What does the silence mean?,” I asked. Silence again. I turned to the CEO and said. “I think we should poll the group.” “What the hell does that mean he asked?”
I said that I would ask each member of the group individually to say Yes to the question I teed up. “Do you agree that we should spend the $12 million on the integrated desktop?” I then added that if they said anything whatsoever other than YES, I would record their vote as a NO.
I began, “So Rich, Do you agree that we should spend the $12 million on the integrated desktop?” Rich started by saying, “Well…,” I said, “That’s a No, Rich.” “What about you Carol Ann?” Another No. And so it went. In the end, I had 12 NO’s, a unanimous vote for NO. The CEO asked, “Now what?” I responded quickly. “I think you should pay me 1 million dollars because I just saved you 12. With all the issues we just uncovered you would not install that desktop, not now or perhaps ever.” Instantly I had gained credibility by just stating what people feared to ask, What does the silence mean?
Their team went on to become one of the highest performing teams with whom I ever worked They turned the business around and together they became a great team. I ended up working for all of their teams. One of my teachers, George Leonard once remarked. “Energy follows attention.” Sometimes silence is an invitation to look for the power that’s behind the silence and just waiting to be expressed.