Intentional Silence as a Moderation Technique

Well, that was awkward, wasn’t it? The fact is breaks in conversation make us uncomfortable. In fact, research from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands shows that here in the US it takes only four seconds before an extended period of silence becomes uncomfortable for seconds. It seems we have a true disgust for Husch. So why would we want to intentionally create periods of awkward silence with participants and user research activities? Well, it’s in these periods of silence if we can just wait them out where participants often offer the most poignant information. Let’s check out some examples of how to use and how not to use intentional silence during usability testing sessions and user interviews. First, let’s see what happens in an interview with the facilitator fails to use intentional silence. Me a little bit about your design process.

So we’re really good at moving fast, like the teams are just moving along and it really makes it so we hit our milestones.

All right, then let’s talk about how your team uses tools. Yeah, tools. We use slack. We tend to rely on that instead of email communication. Did you notice what happened there? The interviewer rushed to fill a brief silence and moved onto a different topic, cutting off the participants train of thought one. A participant posits it’s good practice to just wait a few seconds. Often they will add on additional interesting information. Let’s see what I mean. Tell me a little bit about your design process. I mean, we’re really good at moving fast.

The teams are just moving along and it really makes it so we can hit our milestones. I mean, maybe we miss one milestone a month, but that’s always because marketing kind of slows down our process, so it’s not really our fault. Feels like, you know, sometimes they’re operating on a different set of information.

So I’m not sure if they need to be in our stand up meetings or what.

But, yeah, it’s bad.

Now, in that clip, the interviewer used intentional silence to encourage the participant to elaborate and the participant continued her thoughts reveal crucial information that actually conflicted with her first statement.

By the way, how do you think that moment of silence lasted? Did you start to get uncomfortable? The silence was only five seconds, although it probably felt longer due to our innate discomfort with silence. OK, now let’s see what it looks like in usability testing when a moderator fails to use intentional silence. So this is crazy.

I have no idea how to get to my account.

Yeah, that’s pretty bad.

You saw it right when the participants stopped talking, the moderator couldn’t resist filling that silence with commentary. Filling short natural breaks with interjections influences the user’s behavior and distracts from the task at hand, not to mention it’s going to result in unreliable data. Instead, resist the urge to eat up silence with comments. Now, here’s a better example where the moderator uses intentional silence to encourage natural progression in the user’s task flow.

So this is crazy.

I have no idea how to get to my account.

I just I want to see when my headphones will get here.

All right, I’m just going to click on the cart and see if there’s a way to get to my past orders.

So in the clip we just saw, the moderator used intentional silence to give the participant the time and the space she needed to complete the task at hand, as she would normally. Now, as for what you can actually do in all these periods of silence, instead of speaking, here are a few tips. Use your body language to allow time for people to articulate their thoughts. Just maintain eye contact or focus. Don’t speak and don’t even nod your head because that can signal impatience, wait patiently and relaxed, giving the person time to speak. My personal trick is to just count to seven in my head before speaking another trick. If you have to do something, take a sip of water, continuing your count in your head as you do to learn more and see more examples of.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *