Using Silence During Negotiations: When, Why, and How to Use It

We live in a world with so much noise that people often feel uncomfortable with silence. This even happens in business meetings, where people are constantly talking over each other and interjecting the minute someone else pauses. As soon as there is a moment of silence, someone usually tries to speak up to fill in the gap. However, silence can be an extremely powerful and effective tool at the negotiating table. The occasional silence allows you to better absorb the information you are hearing, it can force the other person to speak, and it can also add impact and clarity to your speech. Here are a few ways silence can help you during your next negotiation. 

Benefits of Silence in Negotiations

You can better listen and understand what you are hearing.

One of the hardest things for many negotiators to do is to listen. That’s because they are often so focused on their own agenda that it becomes difficult to absorb what the other person is saying. While their counterpart is talking, they tend to be mentally preparing their response rather than actively listening. Allowing a few moments of silence before responding will help you turn off your internal voice so you can listen more effectively. 

Silence Builds Trust

This may sound counterintuitive, but imagine you are looking to purchase a new car. Which salesperson would you be more likely to trust: the one who speaks continuously without allowing you to speak or the one who speaks less, allowing you to ask questions or share your thoughts? Presumably, the second salesperson that incorporated silence from time to time, would seem more trustworthy. Even if it’s not your intention, the person who speaks incessantly will appear pushy and immediately creates a sense of distrust. 

Silence Builds Respect

Just like it builds trust, silence also helps build respect. By demonstrating that you are willing to remain silent and listen, you demonstrate to your counterpart that you respect their ideas and opinions. When you treat someone with respect, you are likely to get that same respect in return. 

Silence Makes the Other Person Talk

Great negotiators know that gathering information is critical in a negotiation. You need to find out what the other person wants and needs and what is motivating them. When you practice silence, you force the other person to speak first. This can be an effective way to gather important information about the other party. 

Silence Creates Impact

Think about a great speaker you may have heard. Chances are, at some point during their speech they said something that was truly powerful. There’s also a good chance they paused briefly after the statement. That’s because that brief pause was just enough to create impact and make the audience really think about what was just said. The same is true during negotiations. Negotiators use silence to draw attention to their most important points.