small waterfall or dam, "Pause to be clearer, for others"

When being clear with others, it can be useful to pause. Pausing will help you best ensure that your communication with others lands as you’ve intended it to. You want the content of your message and the tone you intend to both get through, clearly.

Too often, we miscommunicate.

Three ways to pause to get clearer about the future
  • Curiosity
  • Deep listening
  • Openness

I created a video that covers this post and the last one. To view the first part, covering pausing when getting clear, watch from 6:20 to 13:00.


Your communication will most directly land with another person if you’ve first taken the time to understand them. Curiosity will aid you.

When you are curious, you are listening to understand. You are not listening for the answer you want to hear. And you are not judging what you hear as you hear it.

Have you ever been misunderstood, even in a live, face-to-face conversation? Most of us have. Now that many meetings are held online, the probability of misunderstanding is higher. You must work even more diligently to stay in a state of curiosity. It is possible in an online meeting and even with written chat or email to have your message land as you intended it to. Don’t read “between the lines.” Don’t make assumptions. And remain calm when you feel your recipient may have done both.

Stay curious, and ask questions, until the other person confirms that you’ve understood them.

Deep listening

At times, a complex, serious, or potentially emotional communication requires deep listening.

Deep listening goes beyond curiosity and is best suited for a one-to-one conversation. Rather than questioning in a kind of, “me, then you, then me, then you” fashion, you’ll be listening, possibly jotting down key thoughts, and pausing to ask a question only when what might be a long explanation from the other person is complete.

When you are the one communicating something, you understand what you mean. But they don’t yet understand. And they may not be modeling the way of pausing and asking questions to best ensure understanding.

You can ask them to ask you. You can be open to them, and pause to allow them time to think before coming back with questions. You can also follow up with them later, or… whatever fits the situation that will put them most at ease with you.

One caveat is that as leaders, we are (likely) not therapists. It may be appropriate for you to interrupt the person, gently, in order to stay on topic or save an intensely personal issue for the right professional support. You could move your cup, grab your notepad, softly say their name, etc. Something that will cause them a pattern interrupt. A breath.

Reduce the likelihood of a conversation going off track by setting the stage up front. Tell the other person about the context of the meeting and even add a loose framework, such as, “I’d like you to share for up to three minutes, and then we’ll pause to make sure I understand.” Offering guidelines for a meeting, especially a sensitive conversation, can help both of you keep your cool.


Stay open. Understand your facial expressions and other gestures. Do you look open? Do you exude an air of being open to the other person—who they are and what they have to say?

Be open in the way each meeting should go, depending on the topic. Over time you will get better at matching the context of a meeting with the time, energy, and focus you have available for it.

One thing you may do, especially in more emotionally charged meetings that you don’t want to cut off abruptly (but you don’t have three hours), is to allow one meeting to be spread out over more meetings. State that up front. Something like, “I want us to have time to cover all of this, so we both fully understand what our best next steps will be. Let’s give this first meeting up to 40 minutes, knowing that we will continue again tomorrow if needed. How does that sound to you?”

You care about your people, you care about yourself, and you care about the goals and objectives that need to be brilliantly executed. Communicate clearly in a way that you understand and are understood, and I bet you’ll experience a rise in energy, commitment, and execution.

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