Practical Ways to Use Silence in Business (Part II)
September 18, 2019
Image from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3V-pYCGx0C4
In my previous blog post I explained why silence is your most powerful, underutilized business communication tool. While many readers agreed, I received questions about how to put silence as a technique into action.
Before we jump into that, we should acknowledge that many of us have an odd relationship with or fear of silence. Research out of the University of Groningen found that when silence in a conversation stretches for more than four seconds, people started to feel uncomfortable.
When communicating, our instinct is to keep talking. It’s against our socially conditioned habit to dwell in a deliberate pause or moment of reflection.
In Japan, however, silence is highly valued in business communication. The concept of haragei (belly talk) recognizes that the most powerful communication is sometimes not speaking at all.
So what are some business scenarios where we can use silence to be more effective?
“He who speaks first, loses”. In the middle of a negotiation, silence can be an effective weapon to convey optionality and influence, whether it’s a negotiation over salary or a business contract. Silence is effective for two reasons. First, it tells the other party you have other options and a credible exit plan. That’s leverage to closing a deal on your terms. Second, silence can create an awkward tension that compels the other party to fill the void and divulge useful information you need. More information is power.
Pitching or selling
Silence is one of the most powerful techniques in a salesperson’s arsenal. That’s because what a salesperson says is often less important than what the potential customer says. When pitching or selling, allow up to 5 seconds of silence after asking a potential customer a question. Resist the urge to fill the silence with your voice. Instead, let the customer consider a thoughtful reply, and watch them as they open up and tell you all you need to know so you can sell to them.
Silence is especially powerful in public speeches or presentations. Pause for a few seconds once you take the stage, but before you start to speak. What does that tell the audience? “I am in control; I am confident; believe what I say, I’ve done this before”. Including pauses in the middle of your presentation is also a good idea. Audiences are s accustomed to hearing superfluous words, that when we insert five to ten seconds of silence it automatically refocuses everyone’s attention. The message? Something important is or will be conveyed.