Silence is a tool to use if you want to deescalate an angry person, increase dialogue with someone who is reluctant to talk, or to send a signal that you are wary of what the other person said.
When someone is yelling at you, let them. As long as the person isn’t swearing at you or throwing things, they are just expressing an emotion and once expressed, the emotion is disarmed.
When people get angry there are three stages – yelling, then swearing, followed by violence (throwing objects or punching). If you try to stop someone from yelling they are more likely to start swearing which makes you more determined to stop them which frustrates the other person even more which leads to even greater frustration which leads to….. You get the picture.
Listen to what the person is saying then once they have finished you will probably have all of the information that you require to know how they feel and how to help them.
If you are on the phone with the person, nothing changes. If the caller asks “Are you there”, come back with “Yes I am and this is helpful information” or “Yes, and I am listening.”
As humans, we dislike silence when we are with others. Inherently we feel the need to communicate hence the reason our good friend Abraham Maslow identified socialisation as a strong human need.
If the other person is reluctant to talk, use long pauses to encourage them to fill the silence. Maintain eye contact with them during the silence to send a signal that you are there and want to listen to what they have to say.
If you think that someone is being untruthful, leave a 10 second gap in your conversation and then say “This is an important point that you make, I want to make sure that I have got it correct.” “Can you go over that again for me?” This will signal to them that they are being scrutinised.
Another option after the pause is to paraphrase back to them in your words what they have just told you.
If you believe that they are still lying or that you have information that is different to what they have just told you again, say “I have been told/have it recorded as…” and go over what you think is the truth. This again is a chance for the other person to amend what they have told you.
Silence is a powerful tool, use it wisely and everyone will benefit.