The sound of silence

Have you noticed that when there is silence in a conversation, there’s an instinctive urge to fill the space by talking even if we don’t necessarily have anything to say. We live in a world of noise where silence has almost ceased to exist to an extent that silence becomes awkward.

Powerful people and good negotiators master the art of silence and play this subtle game. Speaking too much and not at the right time can weaken your position. Silence helps you to keep power.

Here are some tips on how perfecting the art of silence can make you a better negotiator:

Listen more

Research shows that people have a difficult time truly listening to the other side in a negotiation. While our counterpart is talking, our tendency is to prepare our response rather than listen. Experience shows that active listening is not an instinctive skill in negotiation: instead, our tendency is to advocate for our point of view.

One can control the negotiation process by simply listening well. When we listen well, we gain the trust and confidence of others. When we truly listen to people, we make them feel important, particularly if we are making good eye contact while listening.

Silence begs a response

Silence is useful in this context because someone who talks into a quiet space will usually say the first thing that comes to mind. This can be the last thing they actually wanted to talk about, resulting in inadvertent disclosures. Lawyers and peace officers use silence in interviews and depositions for this reason. Even if there are no secrets to spill, silence can result in much more productive conversations. Someone who talks freely and impulsively will often start to discuss what they see as the most important, or most worrying, concern on the table. That’s useful information for a negotiator who doesn’t know enough about the situation or the counterpart to know what questions to ask. Providing a silent space for the counterpart to fill lets them tell the negotiator what their priorities are and possibly answer those unknown questions without them having to be asked explicitly.

Just a few seconds of patient, expectant silence as the counterpart is finishing a statement will subtly signal to them to keep talking, without making them feel awkward or making them defensive.

Silence allows you to better understand and respond

Silence also offers the advantage of being able to adjust your speech depending on what is disclosed by your counter-part. The advantage of listening is to acquire information that could leverage your strategy and improve your arguments. It is also important to digest the information and adapt to the discussion as it unfolds.

Silence can allow you to defuse anchors

Silence can also be a very powerful tool for defusing anchors clearly and forcefully in a negotiation. When your counterpart names an outrageous figure, your stunned silence will far more effectively defuse the anchor than heaps of protesting would. Defusing anchors through silence is particularly effective in over-the-phone negotiations, where the other side may wonder for a moment if your hung up in response to the aggressive offer.

The beauty of a well-timed pause

Pausing demonstrates that you are thinking about what you are saying and it helps you to sound more articulate. Pausing after someone else has spoken demonstrates you are listening and considering a response. Often if we don’t take a considered pause, we tend to fill the gap with an ‘umm’ or ‘ah’.

When your negotiating partner makes a too-low offer, sigh, look him or her in the eye and say nothing. That can make the person feel guilty and perhaps increase the offer.

Pausing also gives the person you are speaking to a moment to digest what has just been said, making the information clearer for them to understand.

Power negotiators, whether sellers or buyers, know that what you don’t say is sometimes more powerful than what you do say. Use these tips the next time you negotiate and enjoy the power that silence brings.

It takes specialised training

The ability to negotiate strategically and master critical techniques is essential for high level executives, in advanced negotiations such as mergers and acquisitions, industrial relations, labour negotiations and high value contracts.

Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s three-day ADVANCED Negotiation Skills training course will teach you how to think strategically and systemically to allow you to engage more successfully in high level team negotiations. This ADVANCED Negotiation training course is ideal for all senior negotiators and negotiators from operational management, through sales and consulting, to strategic and general management.

Book your seat at their upcoming training course scheduled for 28 – 30 March, 2017 in Johannesburg.

Click here to look at Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s public course training schedule.

To find out more about the training courses offered by Maurice Kerrigan Africa or to arrange an appointment, simply call +27 11 794 1251 or email




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