Pause For the Cause In a Heated Argument

You are an elected official, a representative in your state legislature. During a debate on a critical issue, your colleague scolds you in an angry tone for seeking attention and not following the rules,

How would you respond to that kind of scathing ad hominem attack in a public forum that questions your integrity and character?

Chances are you would impulsively fight fire with fire. You’d feel obligated to defend your integrity and your character with emotionally-tinged vocal tirade to set the record straight.

Yet Justin J. Pearson (D- Memphis), a state representative in the Tennessee state legislature, did the exact opposite. He responded with a pregnant pause: Six seconds of silence while the words of his opponent still seemed to sizzle with a flair of acrimony in the air,

Then without malice in his voice or anger in his face, Rep. Pearson calmly posed a question in a soft voice to the general audience rather than a respond directly to his colleague.

With poise and professionalism, he posed the question slowly and methodically in stark contrast to the blistering diatribe that assaulted his ears just moments before.

How many/ of you/ would want/ to be/ spoken to that way?

And then he repeated the question even more thoughtfully and softly. How many/ of you/ would want/ to be/ spoken to that way? Then he clarified the issue at hand: a discussion on gun control legislation rather that a personal attack berating the colleague for seeking attention and breaking the rules of the legislature. Rep. Pearson then explored the genesis of the ad hominem attack.

“The reason I believe the sponsor of this legislation is comfortable is because there is a decorum that allows it, that allows you to belittle people. We didn’t belittle anyone.”

Rep. Pearson proved that periodic pauses pack a punch. Six second pauses feel a lot longer than they really are, but listeners use that time to more fully digest the food for thought you just served to them.

The pregnant pause fills the listeners with anticipation that makes your message even more provocative, even more commanding and even more intriguing. 

Silence is a requisite of speaking just as exhaling is a requisite of breathing.

Without the pause, the sounds of words become only a cacophony of noise. Without exhaling, you cannot inhale. No wonder Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed: “Talking is like playing the harp. There is as much laying the hands on the strings to stop the vibrations as in twanging them to make the music.”

With a pregnant pause you as the speaker tune in more directly into your thoughts, into your emotions and into your ideas. The ensuing silence seems paradoxically to amplify your thoughts so fully that your speech seemingly oozes out of your being with greater meaning and enhanced memorability.

To develop your skill in conducting a pregnant pause to cool a heated debate and gain more control over persuading others of your point of view, get your copy of SPEAKING Like a Leader, With Civility & Featuring 52 more Leadership Mints.

The third book in the Leadership Mints Series develops your ability to gain greater shared understanding and collaborative decision making through credible two-way communications especially in adversarial situations.

Readers develop their credibility, capability and memorability to gain greater understanding and speak with greater civility.

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Consumed like a breath mint — quick and on-the-go — a Leadership Mint is a bite-sized idea that energizes leadership behaviors and personalizes leadership principles so they are more easily remembered, more readily acted upon and more fully applied.

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