Silence may very well be one of the most powerful skills you can develop in negotiation. It may also be one of the most awkward skills to to learn.
Ever tried to sit through silence after asking what is seemingly a very awkward question? It sucks! It’s the most awful and strange feeling. It’s almost as though you instantly become naked and feel immediately exposed to potential ridicule.
It’s really hard to sit through that type of feeling. And if you think it’s easy, you may be a sociopath.
Even though it’s super awkward sometimes, it’s really important.
“But why, Mark?”
I’m glad you asked. You see, when you ask pointed probing questions AND WAIT for the answers, you create opportunities for the person you’re negotiating to fill the space of silence.
“Why do they fill that space?”
Another excellent question. Because when you go silent in a negotiation (with no smiling, laughing, giggling, or justification), you create a VERY AWKWARD situation which causes most people to start feel anxious and begin squirming in their seats uncomfortably. You know the feeling, you’ve been there before.
Now, if you can master your anxiety in this VERY VERY awkward situation, you can gain control of the ability to elicit information from the other party. Quite equally (and yes this may be a little sick) you get to watch them squirm a bit. The key is to WAIT for the answers.
“So how do I get good at this?”
It takes practice. Don’t freak out if you don’t master it right away. Like every skill, you really do need to consciously discipline yourself to implement it on a regular basis to get better.
“But, If we know that silence is an important negotiation skill, why don’t people use it more often?”
Because it’s difficult to master, and if you commit to mastering it, you’re going to go through a lot of awkward situations to master it. It’s often not a fun process. Especially if you can’t come to terms with feeling embarrassed a little.
“Yeah, but Mark, negotiation has a lot to do with your ability to deal with unknowns. Shouldn’t you work figuring out decision quality and the probability of certain directions based on those unknowns instead of asking awkward questions?”
Yes and no. Understanding decision quality is critical. And learning how to effectively calculate probability based on the unknowns is also important. But far too many people deal with too many unknowns because of their fear of asking “awkward” questions and getting potential rejection or awkward silence. Don’t use “dealing with unknowns” as a scapegoat for not asking pointed and probing questions.
“Okay Mark, so, what now?”
Now you practice. Get comfortable with the awkward sound of silence.
It’s going to suck. It’s going to be awkward. You’re going to want to fill the space. You’re going to want to justify your requests. Don’t. It’s going to take a lot of willpower, a lot of practice, and a lot of focus. But once you can master silence, you can begin to master many other parts of negotiation because they seem less formidable when compared to being embarrassed in an awkward situation.