The use of silence in negotiation may very well be the hardest skill to master. Not because it’s difficult in theory, but because it’s difficult in practice. It feels weird. It feels awkward. You will crave the silence to be broken. You will want to fill the dark empty void of silence with words. Don’t do it. Mastering this skill will set you apart as a patient, composed, controlled negotiation professional.
Silence may be the most powerful tool in your tactical arsenal. The best negotiators in the world are more silent than talkative. Seems counter intuitive right? You would think the stereotypical smooth talking ‘sales’ type would be the best negotiator. Not so, my friends. It’s often the quiet and patient among us that make the best negotiators.
What does silence generate?
- Silence generates anxiety which leads to concessions – When someone makes a proposal or counters your proposal the very first thing you should do is the ‘strategic cringe’. The second thing you should do is STAY SILENT. Silence forces anxiety into the conversation. It puts the other party on their heels without you having to say a word. This is because we as humans cannot help but get tied up in ‘what if’ scenarios. When you remain silent, the other party automatically starts thinking, “What if I pitched this too high/low”,”Oh no, what if I lose this deal”,”What if this doesn’t stick”,”What if my competitor came in with a better offer”. You need to have a significant amount of discipline to not think of ‘what if’ scenarios and remain in the moment of the deal. Many times, if you remain silent long enough, the anxiety becomes so high for the other party that they cannot bare it and they believe they’re going to lose the deal with such emotional intensity that they fill the void of silence with an immediate concession just to get the negotiation ‘back on track’.
- Silence generates discomfort which leads to information – Generally speaking, sales and procurement attract certain types of people. Generally sales people are warm talkers whereas procurement people are cold analysts. This interesting difference leads to a significant difference in comfort level with silence. In my experience, sales people have significant difficulty with silence and get very uncomfortable when there are longer periods of silence. This discomfort leads to them blurting out information, and sometimes that’s information they shouldn’t have shared. Like how much they need the deal, how important the buyer is as a customer, how valuable this deal is to them, how valuable this deal is to their business, how their business is hurting right now and how this deal would help their business. This is a mistake. Buyers love this. By doing this, salespeople automatically give more power to buyers. Salespeople often literally talk themselves into a lower position of leverage. The more information like this that flows, the more leverage is lost.
- Silence generates self-confidence and composure – Discipline is a funny thing. The more you use it, the more confident you become. And so as with any discipline, the discipline to remain silent generates confidence and composure among those who use it. This confidence and composure changes the way you approach the deal and are perceived by the other party. The more confident and composed you are, the more your body language and speech pattern changes. The more confident your body language and speech pattern becomes, the more you are perceived as confident and composed. The more you are perceived as confident and composed, the more deals you will win.
So how does one become silent?
- PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE – It’s going to feel weird and uncomfortable at first, but the more you try it out, the more comfortable it will feel.
- Give it time – You must give silence time. You must feed silence time in order to generate the benefits derived from it. This means that you MUST give each moment of silence AT LEAST 10 seconds to begin. This will feel like an eternity when you first try it, but you must wait at least 10 seconds after a proposal or counter proposal before saying anything. Build up from there.
- Respond with question – If you absolutely cannot hold yourself back and must fill the space with some words, ask an open ended question. For example, if someone has made a proposal or counter proposal, your question could be, “and how do you feel this offer best represents your/our needs?”. This will get the other party talking again and allow you to gain more information about what their motivations/interests may be by giving that offer/counter-offer.
Silence may be the most powerful tool in your tactical negotiation toolkit. But it also may be the hardest skill to master. It takes SIGNIFICANT patience and discipline to implement and maintain silence. Mastering this skill will set you apart as a patient, composed, controlled negotiation professional.