Do you recognize the Simon & Garfunkel song, The Sounds of Silence? It’s a sad song about loss. But silence is also golden. It’s a powerful tool in business and life. Learn to use it.
The best speech I ever heard in person was delivered in Mexico in 1973 by Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president who was assassinated a few months later. He spoke more like a poet than president, particularly as he delivered a speech about economic change, at the University of Guadalajara. He used voice cadence and change beautifully. His speakers voice grew softer and emotional as he talking about the harsh underground life of the copper miners. Then he paused, using the silence. Then he turned up the volume and emotional resolve as he insisted on how things had to change. It was brilliant. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. And the silence was part of it.
I learned the power of silence in negotiation back in the 1990s when I spent a week of every month in Tokyo. I was going to do business planning seminars for Apple in Japan and the Apple managers involved had the sense to get me some special tutoring from Dianne Saphiere, an expert in crossing cultures between the U.S. and Japan.
Dianne said that the Japanese culture appreciates and respects silence as part of a conversation. Westerners, on the other hand, hate and fear silence. We call it awkward. It drives us crazy.
Silence can be as simple as a matter of respect. The person who understands and uses silence might be indicating that you’ve made an important point, so he or she respects that by waiting to respond. You, however, have to avoid fearing silence and forcing a response. Wait for the silence.
Dianne said that sometimes a Japanese person will win concessions from an American simply by not fearing silence. For example, the American breaks what seems like an awkward pause by lowering the price, thinking that the silence is disapproval. The Japanese person, however, was simply respecting the importance of the offer.
Since then I’ve often seen how silence can work as a tool. As you talk with somebody, and particularly in negotiations, use this to your favor. Take your time.
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