1. Listen more. Listening is not passive. One can control the negotiation process by simply listening well. When we listen well, we gain the trust and confidence of others. When people are encouraged to talk, they tell us their needs, their wants, their dreams, and their plan of action; in short, they give us information. When we truly listen to people, we make them feel important, particularly if we are making good eye contact while listening. The problem is that most of us don’t truly listen when others talk. We just can’t remain silent long enough to really hear them. Chances are we are just marking time until we can jump in and start talking. We should be aware that every time we do talk, we open ourselves to being vulnerable.
2. The 10-second strategy. Silence makes most of us uncomfortable. In today’s world, there is noise all around us, from cell phones ringing to the iPod in our ear to chats around the water cooler. We are used to noise, not silence. Try this test: the next time you are negotiating with another party, and they say something like “well, that’s my offer,” don’t utter a word for 10 seconds. It’s practically guaranteed that they will jump in with another offer or more information, anything to break the silence. When you get comfortable with 10 seconds, bump it up to 20 seconds. The silence will hang like lead and drive ‘em crazy!
3. Ask questions. A good way to learn silence is by asking questions, another secret weapon of successful negotiators. The person asking the questions controls the conversation. While you can get information from the person answering the question, generally if you have done your homework, you should already know the answer before you ask. Lawyers are taught to never ask a question without already knowing the answer, which is good advice. What you are really doing here is getting the other person to talk, in theory to verify your information, but really to help him or her to feel more comfortable working with you and trusting you.
Let’s turn that around. Realize that when someone asks you a question, there is no law that says you have to answer. Try remaining silent. The questioner will likely start talking again. A good negotiator who really does not want to answer a question might, after a while, say something like “before I answer that, tell me why you ask.” Throw it back. Remember, there is no law that states you have to answer questions asked of you.
4. Pause more between sentences. In a recent study, a team of scientists showed that in listening to a musical symphony, just a one-to-two second break between movements triggers a flurry of mental activity. So could a one-to-two second pause between sentences be just as powerful in helping others comprehend our information? Any comedian will tell you that it is the timing of pauses in their delivery that determines their success. Those of us who are fast talkers have to learn to be more deliberate and practice this art of pausing between sentences for more emphasis.
5. The flinch, the shrug, the smile. These actions are all guaranteed to carry a powerful message, even as you remain totally silent! The flinch is the quick, jerky movement of the shoulders, with a pained look on your face, as if you have just been stricken. It sends the immediate message that you do not like what you just heard. Once you flinch, then what? Why, remain silent. Wait for the other party to speak, and they quickly will, chances are while scrabbling to sweeten the deal. The shrug of the shoulders sends the message that you just don’t care; you’re not interested. Again, remain silent. And the smile: a silent smile is powerfully enigmatic (ask Mona Lisa), and the other party is left to guess what you are thinking. And, yes, again, don’t let yourself speak first.
Power negotiators, whether sellers or buyers, know that what you don’t say is sometimes more powerful than what you do say. Use these tips the next time you negotiate and enjoy the power that silence brings.
About the Author
Liz Tahir honed her negotiating skills through years of making multimillion dollar deals in company boardrooms. A former corporate executive, Liz heads Liz Tahir & Associates as a marketing consultant, conference speaker, and business writer. She delivers seminars and workshops on improving negotiating skills for better success in today’s international marketplace. For more information about her services, go to www.liztahir.com, or call her at (504) 569-1670.