The Art of Silence in Negotiation

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Silence is often overlooked in negotiation. One of the most challenging skills to master is to balance between talking and silence during a negotiation.

By Sarah Liu

“Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “keep silence for the most part, and speak only when you must, and then briefly.”

Negotiation is an essential life skill, one that is steeped in the intricacies of social interaction. No one gets what they deserve in life. They get what they negotiated for. Conversations therefore form the very basis of negotiation.

In 1995, Harvard Business Review published an article on The Power of Talk. The author looked at how talking has always been an important way observers measure our authority. During a discussion, we often stand witness to how people use their voice to exert power. Yet, silence can be just as effective to assert influence.

Unfortunately, in the modern corporate context, silence has often been discounted for its perceived passivity. A successful negotiation is one where both parties achieve a mutually beneficial outcome, keeping in mind that the desired results are nurturing a long term relationship and fostering future opportunities. Attempts to dominate a negotiation would then contradict the need to constructively discuss and meet at midpoint. While we can approach talking as a tool to leverage our authority, we need to master the art of silence to ensure a smooth and successful negotiation.

Silence shows that we listen before responding, by taking considered actions. It carves out the space for conscious thought, open-mindedness and good judgement. In fact, we can deduce a deeper understanding of the problem by listening more and talking less. This allows us to approach negotiation with the most appropriate solution. Silence also equips you with the capacity to provide well-reasoned responses to deftly maneuver thorny discussions.

Furthermore, silence increases measured responses. When we are perceived to listen and analyse before verbalising our thoughts, we usually come across as confident. As effective negotiators, we strive to make sound and persuasive arguments in a manner that does not provoke an emotional response. Silence paves a smoother way for thought processes to consider the nuances of each situation before responding. This way, you will be better positioned to anticipate previously unforeseen points and consider alternate perspectives.

Silence leads to mindfulness. With each subconscious slouch, fidget, or vocal intonation and pitch, body language speaks more volume than you think it does. Studies have proven that nonverbal cues like gestures and posture are 12.5 times more powerful than verbal communication. In fact, people gauge more of our true intentions through body language than words. With silence, we can better exude strength, confidence and rationality during a negotiation.

Silence elicits analysis. Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said, “keep silence for the most part, and speak only when you must, and then briefly.” Spend more time listening to others and you can better piece together a clearer picture of their desired outcomes, and deduce their true intentions.

To many people, silence is uncomfortable because there are no easily discernible cues for the other person to respond to. Silence also capitalises on the general discomfort that comes with the awkwardness of silence in a social setting.

As such, silence becomes an ice breaker. Just to fill the silence, it can spark people’s insecurities and encourage them to divulge more information than they originally planned. This in turn places us in the driver’s seat to better shape the narrative in the room.

In a nutshell, silence is an often overlooked and neglected part of negotiation. In practising the art of silence, we put ourselves in the optimal position to steer the conversation and arrive at a beneficial consensus. One of the most challenging skills to master is to balance between talking and silence during a negotiation. With practice of the two, anyone can be an effective and efficient negotiator.  


Sarah Liu is Founder of The Dream Collective, a training platform dedicated towards building a pipeline of female leaders worldwide by empowering and equipping high calibre young professional women during the early to mid-stages of their career.

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