Why you should embrace silence if you want to succeed in your upcoming negotiation.

Uncomfortable with silence in a conversation? Well, you are not alone.

For a number of different reasons (starting with our evolutionary need to belong), many of us fear silences in a conversation. Mainly if they happen with people that are less close to us. We often assume that silence is just an uncomfortable pause in a conversation that needs to be quickly overcome, and what we fail to realize is that it often means people are thinking. Next time you find yourself in a meeting or a gathering and you feel the urge to fill the silence, remember that knowing when to keep your mouth shut is a skill that you will probably want to develop if you want to become a successful negotiator.

To jump-start you on the road to silence-mastery, here are three very important facts you need to keep in mind:

Silences can be more powerful than words during a negotiation.

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Think about it, why is it that we are always trying so hard to avoid them? It’s because they make us nervous. They feel awkward. But we can use this nervousness to our advantage. Knowing that the majority of people will feel inclined to fill the silence, let them cave before you do. For example, you have been offered a promotion and a salary raise. You might be tempted to jump at the opportunity and accept it without much thought. After all, who rejects a promotion + a raise? Well, I’m not saying you should reject it, by any means. Just take your time to think about it. Maybe it is too much responsibility and too small of a raise, maybe you also want flexible hours or some home-office…Silence offers you a chance to think about the information given to you. Simply say, “I really appreciate your thoughtfulness.” Then wait and see what they do next. It will give you time to reflect on what you want to say, and your answer is more likely to play in favor of your real interests. As important, if the other part feels uncomfortable with silence during the closing process, they might be tempted to revise the offer before you have even officially rejected it…just because you are not speaking. What can be cooler than negotiating a raise over a raise by not saying a word?

You can’t listen effectively without silence.

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Silence is an important element of nonverbal communication that is often ignored. But, as you know, talking is only one part of the communication process. Another part is listening. People who listen are able to understand others more quickly and can create an instant rapport. This would be impossible to do by people who only like listening to themselves. Once you focus more on listening and less on replying, you’ll realize how easy it is to come up with the right answers. An essential step of getting ready for a negotiation is writing down or thinking about what the other party's interests are. Get ready to listen, and then ask the right questions. People will leave the conversation thinking you are a rockstar and how they can’t wait to see you again… just cause you listened.

It’s easier said than done.

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Silence must be practiced. You have to learn how to accept the silence before trying to use it in your favor during a negotiation. Start by practicing with silences in your personal life, and watch the amazing results. You can ask questions and keep quiet, let the other person carry the conversation, and try not to fill the blank spaces. See how long you are able to LISTEN without having to give your opinion or present your perspective on things. Before or after saying something important, pause. Since silence makes most of us anxious, our instinctive reaction is to pay attention. After talking, give people a moment of silence to process what you just said. The effective use of silence is actually one of the most powerful tools in any negotiation kit, and if you really want to master it, you need to start by feeling comfortable with it.

Olivia Jaras