My family is Finnish. We’ve been in North America for generations, so only bits and pieces of the culture have stuck with us. Still, it gives me a strong sense of identity. There is comfort in knowing that parts of your personality and tendencies come from hundreds of years of truths for a whole nation of people.
Now that I’ve lived in many different places, I’ve noticed the parts of my childhood that aren’t the norm everywhere else.
Every time I visit my Nana & Poppa’s, I’m offered a tray of 3+ different deserts and coffee. Every single time.
We didn’t just shower at home growing up. We always bathed following a piping hot sauna. (Which is pronounced ‘sow-na’ by the way, not sah-na.)
We pride ourselves in having lots of “sisu” that translates roughly to grit or internal fortitude. There are many stories I’ve heard about Finns who visited an emergency room only to be sent home because they only rated their pain level at a 4 or 5. They’d return later with appendicitis or a similar serious issue.
Most notably, we don’t fill spaces with chit chat and small talk. It can be quite unsettling to people who first encounter us. Long, poignant bouts of silence will pass during conversations. There is an overwhelming sense that if you don’t have something valuable to say, you just don’t talk. And that was OK.
This practice I’ve inherited and learned – being comfortable in the pause – has served me well in business.
There is tension that you can feel in the pause of a conversation. The longer the silence spreads, an urgency grows until the gap is closed. This is useful in many situations if you can handle the tension.
When I kick off a new project with a client, there is a massive download of information that needs to happen. I’m working to understand their business brand at the deepest level possible in a time-efficient way. Once our conversation establishes a tempo and my client is starting to open up, I’ll take the time to pause. Writing notes can provide a natural break if you aren’t practiced in the conversation break.
In the pause, something magic happens. My client will stop and gather their thoughts for a moment. When I don’t reply immediately, they begin to talk again. This time, the conversation goes deeper. Their answer becomes more thoughtful and introspective.
There is gold in the pause.
There is a moment in every sales conversation. It happens after your partner has explained their needs. You’ve explained how you can help them reach their goals. Once they indicate that they are interested in the result, you begin to lay out the price and terms. When you finish, it is time to shut up.
This pause can feel especially nerve-wracking when you are first starting out. The silence can feel like rejection.
Instead of negotiating yourself down before they even speak, hang on to the pause. Wait. Breathe.
It’s sweet relief to hear, “That sounds great. What do we do next?”
In a more traditional interview or consultation where you know that your (potential) client is interviewing multiple candidates before making a decision, I have a secret weapon.
When you get to the end of the interview (after the getting-to-know-you, the evaluation, and your questions), you can use the pause to create useful tension.
Ask them, “Is there any reason you wouldn’t feel confident hiring me after our conversation?”
And then, pause. And wait.
The boldness of the question followed by the tension of the pause will usually reveal an honest answer from your interviewer.
How Will You Pause?
In what situations will you stop and wait?
I hope you’ll channel your inner Finlander and relish in the spaces between. You’ll find magic there.