The Power Of Silence In A Negotiation

Sometimes saying nothing is the best approach
Sometimes saying nothing is the best approach
Image Credit: Jemma D

Let’s face it: as negotiators, we talk a lot. We open the negotiation by stating our position, we argue with the other side about their positions, and we use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to talk through the issues that are preventing us from reaching a deal. The one thing that really does not show up at a most negotiations is silence. However, as we search for powerful tools that we can add to our negotiating toolbox, perhaps this is something that should be there…

Why Is There No Silence In A Negotiation?

Every negotiation is about words. It’s about what we say, how we say it, and what we really mean when we are saying it. Likewise we spend a lot of time trying to get the other side to talk more. The more that they tell us, the better we understand where they are coming from and how we can shape our story to best meet their needs. The words never seem to stop coming.

If during a negotiation, a period of silence does show up, both sides have a tendency to look at it aghast. We simply don’t know what to do with it. If both sides have stopped talking, then there is that deep down fear that we may have run into a deadlock situation where neither of us is going to be able to move forward. What will generally happen in this situation is that both sides will start to talk all at once just to fill the gap. We want to get back to the way that things used to be – everyone talking all the time.

During a traditional negotiation, there are only two times that you’ll see things get quiet. The first is when someone important enters the negotiating room. The room will fall quiet for a moment out of respect for the person. However, the other side of the table will quickly fill the silence with greetings and discussions among themselves about what this visit means. The other time that there may be silence in a negotiation is when documents are being signed. However, this is only a brief pause in the discussions and the noise will start back up.

How Can We Use Silence In A Negotiation?

It turns out that during a negotiation, silence can provide you with a powerful tool that will help you get what you want. People who are involved in a negotiation really don’t like silence. It makes them feel uncomfortable. When a period of silence happens, they will start to talk just to break the silence. The result of this talking is that they may end up revealing too much or even backtracking from their original position.

You need to have a good understanding of just exactly when you should be using silence during a negotiation. One of the most critical times for you to employ this tool is immediately after you have presented your position on an issue to the other side. The thing that you don’t want to do is to undermine your position at this point in time by just trying to fill the space with talk that doesn’t mean anything or even worse contradicting what you just proposed. You defiantly don’t want to apologize for your position. Instead, stay quiet and use the time to study how the other side is reacting.

There is another time during a negotiation that is well suited for using a period of silence. This is immediately following the point in time that the other side has made a proposal to you. What you are going to want to do is to slow things down and take some time to fully absorb what they have proposed to you. You need to be silent as you do this. If you try to talk while you are thinking about their proposal, there is a very good chance that you might miss something important that you should realize. Take this quiet time to listen to what your instincts are trying to tell you.

What All Of This Means For You

Silence is not something that often shows up at a , principled negotiation. In fact, when it does we often don’t know what to do about it. We generally try to fill any gaps in the conversation with words just because we don’t know what to do. However, maybe we’ve been missing the point – perhaps silence is a powerful tool that we can use during a negotiation.

One of the reasons that there is generally very little silence during a negotiation is because we spend a great deal of time trying to get the other side to talk. If a period of silence shows up, we don’t know what to do and so both sides will try to fill it. There are some times that silence will enter into a negotiation, but not for long. We can use silence during a negotiation to get the other side to talk too much. There are good times to use silence during a negotiation such as when you have presented your position to the other side. Additionally, when they have presented their position is another good time to use silence to your advantage.

One of the reasons that using silence during a negotiation is such a powerful tool is because the other side may not be expecting it. Learn how to use silence to get the other side to talk more as they try to fill the space that you have created. Silence is easy to use and can be a powerful tools when used correctly in the hands of a skilled negotiator.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: Can you think of a time during a negotiation that it would not be a good idea to use silence?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Generally speaking, when we enter into a negotiation we have a reason for doing so. We are either seeking a deal for ourselves or we are operating at the request of someone else. However, there is a key question that as negotiators we need to find an answer to in each negotiation: just exactly how committed to resolving this negotiation is the other side?