There’s a Peanuts cartoon I wrote about recently showing Snoopy sitting silently with Charlie Brown, a checker board between them, and Charlie wondering what Snoopy’s next move will be. He suspects Snoopy has a fancy strategy planned given how quiet and tricky he is; the more Charlie thinks about it, the more he wonders what Snoopy is thinking. In the last panel, Snoopy is silently trying to recall whether he’s playing red or black checkers!
I’ve used the cartoon many times because like Snoopy, I often think quietly, even if I’m actually “thinking” about something much more basic than people expect. That’s just one advantage of thinking quietly. If you don’t usually do it, you may want to consider using it more to your advantage because thinking quietly:
- Can provide mystery and cover – Quiet time allows you to potentially mask when you don’t understand something or don’t have a good idea to contribute right at that moment. Quiet thinking can also create a sense of mystery, as in the Peanuts cartoon. Particularly in an adversarial situation, causing the other person to think about what you’re thinking (thereby losing focus on their own thoughts) can provide some advantage.
- Creates a learning opportunity – I hardly ever learn while I’m talking, but there’s a lot to learn when others are sharing their perspectives. Shutting your mouth and listening is a great way to go to school on what others are thinking and expressing.
- Is great if you don’t want to influence others’ opinions unnecessarily – One of my mentors uses a relatively unconventional approach – in a team meeting, he always expresses his views last. The most junior person on the team always comments first so that they can respond without influence from statements by their boss or other senior team members. People express their perspectives in order of increasing seniority until the most senior person speaks.
- Allows you to build off of others’ ideas – Relative to the previous item about commenting in reverse order of seniority, it’s a great advantage to be thinking as you hear the perspectives that others are expressing. Having been one of the most senior people, I usually get to go next to last. There’s a tremendous advantage to be had in being able to listen to and vet your own thinking based on what others are thinking. Even if you’re not in a position to adopt this approach, gain the advantages by letting others get a word in before you do.