Tim Cook and Jeff Bezos have different leadership mindsets, but they both embrace the rule of awkward silence.
The rule of awkward silence is very simple. When you encounter a difficult question, you don’t immediately answer, but pause and think about how to answer it. The pauses can last 10-20 seconds or longer, ensuring that the respondent understands the problem before responding.
This has been applied by Tim Cook at Apple for many years. Cook is notorious for long silences that make others uncomfortable in meetings when the only sound he makes is the sound of tearing off the candy.
At Amazon, Bezos applies the same rules, but in a more orderly way. It is time to spend up to 30 minutes at the beginning of each meeting silently reading notes printed on paper. This allows meeting attendees to research, think about the meeting content, and write down ideas without being disturbed.
It was a very strange experience for the new employees. They are not used to sitting quietly and studying with the leaders in the same room. Such quiet initiations ensure wholeheartedly for meeting attendees, especially when they may not be able to review the content in the memorandum prior to the meeting.
Cook and Bezos aren’t the only tech leaders to adopt this rule. Elon Musk usually spends 5 – 15 seconds thinking before answering questions in interviews. Steve Jobs spent 20 seconds before giving the perfect response to a personal criticism of him.
Shy silence is a valuable tool because it allows the respondent to balance thoughts and emotions, instead of reacting entirely based on emotions. This has become even more important in the context of the developed world in the past 10 years, leading to the need to have an immediate response to every question and time being the most luxurious thing in the world.