There isn’t much silence in modern life. We’re constantly bombarded by notifications and information on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our attention spans are shrinking to the point of compulsion, and this tends to turn into highly ineffective conversations.
We end up saying too much, and our written words can often be misunderstood or taken out of context. Constant oversharing is a chronic problem that can diminish your position in a negotiation and plagues many intermediate negotiators.
For example, take the following lines we’ve picked up from actual and mock negotiations:
- “We need those parts in four weeks or the production line will have to shut down.”
- “I need you to give me three designers or I won’t meet my deadline.”
- “If you can’t include shipping costs in the contract, I’ll burn through my budget.”
- “If the POs keep coming late, I won’t be able to meet my goals.”
Sure, they communicate something specific and state a problem, but the other party registers something different: this sounds like your problem. While you are trying your best to communicate a need, you’re also revealing a weakness that can diminish your negotiation power.
The key to better listening and more productive negotiations is simple – it starts with silence. It’s no coincidence that “Listen” and “Silent” are spelled with the same letters.
Negotiation is Communication
Life is a series of negotiations, and communication is a requirement to navigate the various situations life throws at you successfully.
If you’re so much as asking for a cup of water, or something else you want, need, or expect such as a raise, you’re negotiating. And in the reverse, if someone else initiates the ask with you, you’re still negotiating.
Whenever we get into these negotiation situations, it’s easy to make the mistake of expediting your own agenda rather than listening to what the other party has to say. We’re so used to sharing that “listening mode” is often relegating to the bottom of the communication skill set.
Silence allows us to shift the conversation.
The book Alone Together by Sherry Turkle talks about the effects of social media on our ability to connect, and how we’ve started to expect more from technology and less from one another. “Online, we fall prey to the illusion of companionship,” writes Turkle. “We have hundreds of friends or followers, but are alone when it comes to emotional connection.”
In the age of mass distraction and constant sharing, we’ve somewhat lost touch with how to communicate and listen when we get face-to-face. Silence, or listening, is a powerful way to ground yourself and deepen your ability to connect.
Here are three reasons and strategies to use silence:
- “Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” — Leonardo da Vinci
Silence can often be unsettling to the other party, particularly in moments when a conversation gets tense. You want one thing; the other party wants something different. Instead of talking back, use silence to make a statement. The other party will read into your silence and be urged to restate their position, often to your advantage. The lack of immediate feedback might be uncomfortable for the other party, but it also helps check them in case they are making an overly reaching ask. In the face of silence, the tendency is to soften your position.
- “Choose silence of all virtues, for by it you hear other men’s imperfections, and conceal your own. ” — George Bernard Shaw
Silence gets answers. When you ask a question and give the other party sufficient time to respond, they will eventually fill the silence themselves. This only works as long as you don’t cave in and fill it yourself. This strategy is exceptionally beneficial when you ask a challenging question or one that you might feel you have to revise or soften. Don’t do it. It will feel uncomfortable, but again, wait. This type of silence tends to make the other party feel as if they have to answer. When the ball is in the other party’s court, they will eventually feel the need to articulate an answer.
- “Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.” — Muhammad Ali
Silence creates space to think. Tough questions require some time to manifest a response. When you ask a question, giving the other party as much time as they need to respond is not only a trust-building courtesy, but it helps slow down the conversation so both parties can evaluate the situation. When the other party does answer, listen attentively to their response. Next, take your own moment of silence (if needed) to come up with your next question. The more your next question is rooted in the other party’s previous answer, the more you demonstrate that you are listening to what they are saying. This variety of silence tends to make the other person feel as if you genuinely care about what they have to say, and this pushes you both to want to find a mutually agreeable solution.
Final Thoughts: Silence is Golden
Here are a few examples that keep you from sharing too much and damaging your position, as well as the better silent alternative:
- SHARING TOO MUCH: “We need those parts in four weeks or the production line will have to shut down.”
- USING SILENCE: “We need those parts in two weeks.”
- SHARING TOO MUCH: “I need you to give me three designers or I won’t meet my deadline.”
- USING SILENCE: “I need you to give me two engineers.”
- SHARING TOO MUCH: “If you can’t include shipping costs in the contract, I’ll burn through my budget.”
- USING SILENCE: “I need you to include transportation costs in the contract.”
- SHARING TOO MUCH: “If the POs keep coming late, I won’t be able to meet my goals.”
- USING SILENCE: “I need the POs to arrive two weeks before the ship date.”
Shorten your response, don’t say things that make your position weaker, and use silence to move your negotiations forward.