Crucial Skills®

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Trainer Insights

From the Road: Give 'Em The Ol' Ask and Wait!

Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.

From the Road

Put yourself in this situation. You’re in front of a class, scanning the group carefully. All eyes are fixed on you. You’ve just asked a question of the group, and now you’re waiting each other out. Who will respond first? Who will break the uncomfortable silence? Waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting.

In my experience, whoever speaks first in this situation sets the tone for the session. When a participant breaks the silence first, it establishes a shared expectation that the session should and will be interactive. When the presenter speaks first—and this happens all too often—it establishes a different expectation that all the participants have to do is sit back and listen.

So here’s how I tell people to navigate this crucial moment: give ’em the ol’ ask and wait. That’s right. This old standby always seems to do the trick. You ask a question and then—here’s the tricky part—wait . . . for at least 10 seconds. And while those 10 seconds will seem like an eternity, remember that you typically only have to wait them out once before the audience starts to respond and participate.

Don’t answer your own questions. Give ’em the ol’ ask and wait and draw upon the wisdom that resides in the group’s collective experience.

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6 thoughts on “From the Road: Give 'Em The Ol' Ask and Wait!”

  1. Lois Ward

    I’ve found another way to sometimes get a response and break the ice is to say, “This is the interactive part” or “This is where you talk.” It usually gets a chuckle and a response.

    I appreciate your tips!

  2. Dale Brochis

    Having been through Crucial Conversations seminar at my own organization, I can tell you first hand that the amount of comfortable participation is greatly dependent upon who is in the audience with you.

    Our organization had a seminar for “Leadership”, which included executive and senior leadership as well as middle management.

    Unsure of how to speak in front of those to whom you wish to speak to answer a question from someone teaching you how to speak….no wonder there is hesitancy and lack of trust initially…..

    I think some guidance on who should attend for the most benefit would be helpful when planning…..

  3. Tami

    I read my Crucial Skills newsletter every week. I so appreciate the wisdom and advice that I glean and try to incorporate into my life. I wanted to take a moment and respond briefly to this article. Thank you for sharing the ask and wait approach. Being able to wait patiently in silence speaks volumes about your self-confidence, in any situation.

  4. Darla

    Thank you! A great tool!

  5. James Brown

    Ask and Wait is a great training technique but don’t forget the follow-up, Rephrase as Necessary. If I ask a question and instead of getting an answer I get confused looks, I know I probably asked a poor question. After 5 seconds or so I’ll rephrase the question and then start the 10 second clock over again. It emphasizes that I’m not going to let them off the hook while also making it easier for them to answer.

  6. Brian Taylor

    That’s a good point, Steve. It occasionally does seem an eternity when waiting for an answer. Sometimes, when presenting in this situation and the silence continues, I’ve found it helpful to ask the question again, or to re-phrase it. Or, I’ve asked a prompting question like “what do you think?” with very open body language. Or, again, I sometimes choose someone in the group who “looks” like they would like to respond and I ask “What do you think, Steve?”. These usually seem to elicit a response.

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