The power of silence


I have had some appreciative feedback on my post about negotiating power, and the use of the BANANA.  Simple, practical negotiation tools like this can make a real difference.

So let me share another one.  It’s about using silence as a conscious tool to extract movement from other people.  I have two examples to share with you to show how easy to use this tool is, and how powerful it can be.

The first is from a trip I made to Singapore some years ago, when I was browsing the shopping malls looking for a pair of silk pyjamas for my daughter (as one does!).

I went into a small shop which appeared to have a good selection, picked out a pair which looked the right colour, and asked the owner how much they were (note: there was no price tag, normally a good sign that negotiation is required!).  Here’s how the negotiation went:

Me: “How much are these?”   Owner: “$80”.  Silence from me (partly because I’m no good at maths and I was trying to convert this price into £’s).  Owner: “Oh alright then, two for $80.”  Continued silence.  Owner: “You drive a hard bargain, mister.  OK, for you only, I can do two for $30.”  Me:  “I’ll go away and think about it.”  Ten minutes later we settle on $14 for the pair.

All you do is get the other party to play their cards, and then do not respond.  Zip the lip, even though you are bursting to say something (most of us find the silence uncomfortable, but if you are creating it, the other party is normally thrown by it, and they will fill the silence with more talk, usually a concession.)  I often remind people that we have two ears and one mouth, and we should use that ratio when we negotiate.

Here’s the other example.  It’s quite well known, but if you haven’t heard it, read on.

It’s about how Winston Churchill used silence to become Prime Minister, thus arguably changing the course of history.

In the early part of World War 2, Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister of Britain felt he should step down and hand the role over to Lord Halifax, with Churchill becoming Deputy Prime Minister.  He invited both to Downing Street to accept the appointments formally.  When he said “Churchill, I want you to take over as Deputy”, Churchill consciously said nothing.  There was silence in the room, as neither party wanted to make the first move.  Apparently it lasted 90 excruciating seconds (can you imagine it?).  Eventually when he could take no more, Lord Halifax turned to Chamberlain and said “I think it should be Churchill.”

Your conscious silences don’t have to be on quite such a large scale as this, but they will work for you.  Try not replying to that email on the same day and see what happens.  When the other party says “Do we have a deal?”, zip the lip and count to twenty.  Your heart rate will increase, and you will be bursting to say something, but try and resist it.  If you can, watch the other party for visual clues, particularly in the eyes.  You can often see the weakening of their position written all over their face.

Please let me know how this works for you, and send any tips which you find work well in negotiating.

microimages– Fotolia.com

Nataliya Hora – Fotolia.com

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About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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