March 11, 2020

The Importance Of Silence In Negotiation Tactics

It’s especially destructive in the negotiation room, where silence is vastly underrated. In fact, though popular portrayals show otherwise, many expert negotiators swear by the value of silence. In this post, we'll explore silence as a negotiation tactic.

Silence: A Strong Negotiation Tool

Silence’s strength as a negotiation tool centers around how we interact. Consider how many people you’d feel comfortable sitting in silence with. Chances are, there aren’t many. With most people, whenever there’s a silence, someone will speak up to fill the gap. That desire to fill a void in conversation doesn’t go away during a negotiation. This makes silence a very powerful tool in certain situations. After all, in a negotiation, you want to gather as much information as possible. That way, you can position your offer in a way that appeals to your negotiating partner. By refusing to be the first to speak, you force the issue. In their urgency to fill the void of conversation, your negotiating partner may reveal critical information. That said, silence’s efficacy as a negotiation tool isn’t just about hoping for a slip up. It’s also about emphasizing your position, building trust, and earning respect. Jason Patel, founder of a college and career prep company, encourages people to get comfortable with silence. He explains that filling empty space by explaining your position makes you look less confident. As a result, your words are less effective. Alternatively, when you state your point concisely, each word becomes more valuable. This convinces your negotiating counterparts to pay closer attention to your words. Patel goes a step further. He suggests aiming to be as concise as possible by speaking with as few words as possible. To be clear, though, that doesn’t mean you should be vague. It just means that, the more precise your words are, the better. All that said, you must be strategic about using silence. It’s a great tool to signal your willingness to walk away. Depending on the situation, though, that may not be the signal you want to send.

Benefits of Silence in Negotiation Tactics

Silence is just like any other negotiation tool. It has its benefits and drawbacks that depend on the situation. Before you put this new tool into action, it’s important to understand its inherent advantages. By doing so, you’ll know when and how to negotiate pay using silence. In addition, you’ll learn how to incorporate the use of silence into your own personal negotiation style. To that end, in these next few sections we’ll review the benefits of using silence in negotiations. We’ll explain how it helps you build trust, earn respect, persuade others, and emphasize your position.

More Rapid Building of Trust

It might seem counterintuitive that silence builds trust, but imagine you’re negotiating to buy a car. All else equal, think about who you would trust more out of these two hypothetical salespeople:
  1. The salesperson who talks continuously without giving you a chance to speak.
  2. The salesperson who speaks as much or less than they speak.
Presumably, the second salesperson will listen to you far more than the first, so they'll seem more trustworthy. In one scenario or another, we’ve all felt the pressure of a fast-talking salesperson. It’s unpleasant and it makes it harder to think about your decision. Whether that’s the intention or not, it creates a feeling of distrust. Moreover, failing to use silence means you’re not listening. Which causes you to lose credibility. The same thing can happen in the negotiation room if you’re not using silence effectively. Yet trust is so critical, you can’t afford to lose it. Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation calls building trust one of the “most integral skills negotiators can acquire.” This is because a lack of trust is so counterproductive to negotiations. Without trust, you and your negotiating partner will be suspicious of each other and hold back information. This lack of information exchange makes negotiation even more difficult. As we mentioned earlier, a key part of negotiations is understanding your counterpart’s situation. If they’re withholding information because they don’t trust you, you miss out on valuable information.

Increased Levels of Respect

Just like silence helps you build trust, it also helps build respect. In many ways, trust and respect go hand in hand, whether it’s in a negotiation, or any other interaction. An obvious—but often ignored—way that silence earns you respect is because it shows you’re willing to listen. By demonstrating that you’re a willing listener, you show respect to your negotiating partner. This will make them more likely to treat you with respect. After all, when you give respect, you’re more likely to get it in return. Silence can increase levels of respect in indirect ways too. For example, silence gives you time to think. This makes it easier for you to ensure you don’t say something you regret. In turn, you earn respect by minimizing your mistakes. People tend to respect others more when they perceive them as competent and skilled. Also, silence gives you more time to evaluate. This extra time makes it easier for you to overcome unforeseen obstacles by thinking on your feet. With more time to evaluate the situation, you’ll become a better, more thoughtful negotiator. Again, this increases respect levels because it improves your competency as a negotiator. Of course, you still have to use silence strategically to increase levels of respect. If you’re too quiet, or quiet at the wrong times, people may think they can roll over you. They might also falsely assume you agree with them if you don’t speak up. In practice, it’s critical to strike a balance with using silence.

Benefits of Persuasion

Negotiating without talking too much requires you to be very economical with your words. This takes time as well, in the form of preparation. In any kind of communication, silence and economy of words are critical. Politicians work tirelessly to come up with punchy campaign slogans that are rarely more than a few words. In the same way, comedians, writers, and speakers, all seek to communicate their message in as few words as possible. This is because every good communicator knows their message is more clear with fewer words. Whether that message is persuasive, educational, or entertaining, it’s most effective conveyed concisely. To be clear, this doesn’t mean you can’t talk for long spells. It does mean, though, that all of your words must carry weight. Specific to negotiations, using too many words takes away from the core of your argument. It adds unnecessary flourishes. As a result, the argument becomes harder to follow, less impactful and less persuasive. Even worse, sometimes those flourishes make you seem like you’re qualifying your message. Persuasiveness relies on clarity because you need others to see your perspective. By over qualifying your message, you appear less confident in what you’re saying. Again, the result is a less persuasive argument.

Putting More Emphasis on What Is Important (Quality over Quantity)

Human beings have a limited attention span. They also have a limited ability to process information. In other words, there’s only so many concepts and ideas we can think about at once. Both of these things work against you in the context of a negotiation. You may have many relevant points, but that doesn’t mean you need all of them. At a certain point, it all becomes overwhelming noise to your negotiating partner. Whether they’re strong points ceases to matter, because they’re not even getting across. This is where silence comes in. The same way designers use white space to draw the eyes, good negotiators use silence. The only difference is, negotiators are using verbal white space to draw attention to their most important points. By stripping out the rest of the noise, silence becomes an emphasis to your most critical points. Not only do you avoid overwhelming your audience, you also enhance your argument.  You ensure that the only thing your negotiating partner is thinking about is your argument. Not only that, you make your arguments easier to understand which adds emphasis in itself.

Thoughts on Other Negotiation Tactics

Silence as a negotiation tactic is one of many options, and you should educate yourself on other strategies too. Of course, that doesn’t mean you must learn every tactic there is. It’s just good to have a few tools in your arsenal that you feel comfortable using. Plus, negotiation is a very personal skill. Everyone develops their own personal style based on their personality and skill set. This means that some tactics may suit you better than others. Finally, negotiation isn’t necessarily one-size-fits-all in every industry and occupation. For example, negotiating a lease may lend itself to different strategies and tactics than negotiating a new car sale. Which is to say, you should look at building your negotiation skills as an ongoing, educational process. Everyone can always get better, and the benefits are invaluable. Speaking on ongoing education, we’re always exploring important small business topics  on the Fora Financial blog. To receive new posts, sign up for our newsletter. [cta-newsletter]