At a recent talk at the 92Y in New York, Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy fielded a question from a mum who wanted to help her shy daughter succeed in college admissions interviews.
Cuddy, who is a social psychologist and the author of new book “Presence,” gave one key piece of advice: Slow down and take pauses.
This strategy has two results: one, you’ll seem more powerful, and two, you’ll show that you’re giving the interaction the attention it requires.
These traits are key components of what Cuddy calls “presence,” or being attuned to and able to express your full potential.
Cuddy said many people fear pauses because “we feel threatened, and if there’s a pause, it’s like there’s a hole and an opportunity for someone to get in there and take you down.”
She added: “What I see happening with particularly shy people in interviews is that they really rush through their answers. They’re afraid to ask questions. They certainly don’t pause. They truncate their answers.”
Yet when you take your time to answer a question, Cuddy said it shows that you’re taking the other person seriously.
“When someone asks you a question,” she said, “trust that they really want you to answer it thoughtfully. So don’t even be afraid to pause before you answer it. Reflect; don’t jump right in.”
She advised doing the same after you’ve given your response: “Pause after that to allow it to sink in. People need time to process.”
In her new book, Cuddy says it’s incredibly important to overcome your fear of silence in conversation. When you stop talking, it may feel like you’re relinquishing power, but in reality you’re gaining power, partly because the other person knows they can trust you.
Ultimately, Cuddy said at the 92Y talk, slowing down and pausing signals “that you feel comfortable, that you deserve to be there, that you respect this interaction, that you’re engaged, and that you’re interested.”
One caveat: Be careful not to speak too slowly, which can make you seem more nervous and less hirable in the eyes of your interviewer.
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