Tactic: Silence is Golden When Negotiating

We are not used to quiet.  Your cell phone rings and chirps with calls, emails, texts, and social media updates.  Your office is a constant whir of people tapping on their keyboard, conversations, and the hum of the ever so pretty fluorescent lights.  Your home has the fridge running, the washing machine churning, the dishing washer scrubbing, the t.v. blasting a show or a game, and the tapping of keyboards as family members do homework, connect with friends, or watch cats doing oh-so-cute-things while teenage boys are doing oh-so-stupid-things.  When you think about it there are very few moments in our life that truly are completely silent.  I would say sleep but so many people fall asleep with the t.v. or radio on that even during sleep we have chosen to have noise sound us.  That is why this critical step to negotiating is so difficult for so many people but with practice it can be done.

The step is to be silent, hush up, or SHUT UP! When you are asking someone to do more or to do things differently you need to give them time to catch up and consider you comments.   I can’t tell you how many times I have been on a business call that people ask me if I’m still on the call just because there is a pause.  I like to consider for a comment before I respond.  It drives people crazy. More often than not they figure a cell phone has dropped the call.

There is an old sale’s saw that says “She who speaks first, loses.”  I just did a Google search on the masculine version of this saying “He who speaks first, loses” and got 11.4 million results.  As I said, this is an old saw that is widely practiced and amazingly effective.  This comes into play in every negotiation.   You can think of this two ways.  The first is you create power for yourself by embracing the uncomfortable silence.  Conversely you can think that you minimize your negotiating power if you prevent the other person from responding to your offer or counteroffer.  Either perspective works because the likelihood of receiving a concession increases greatly if the other person responds first.

Consider this conversation between a hiring manager and a candidate:

Hiring Manager:  Congratulations, the job is yours!  The starting salary is $40,000 and you get two weeks vacation.  The offer letter will spell out all the benefits.

Candidate:  Thank you for the offer.  I’m a little surprised about the salary though.  Based on my research I would have expected it to be in the $50,000 range.

Tic, Tic, Tic, Tic, Tic, Tic, Tic, Tic………Tic, Tic, Tic

Candidate:  Salary.com shows the median salary at $48,000 and I have so much experience.  Combined I don’t believe $40,000 to be a good offer.

The candidate just lost some power when she spoke after the silence.  The silence is important for a few reasons.  The hiring manager needs to consider your comments.  Remember, rarely is an initial job offer made at the maximum salary budgeted.   The hiring manager most likely will have the authority to increase the salary during the meeting. S/he may make a big production of it but there should be some money already approved.  So, during the silence the hiring manager is probably figuring out:

  1. How serious are you
  2. How much of the available money to offer
  3. How much of a show to give you for any additional offer

Think of this quiet time as the equivalent to the car salesperson who leaves you to check with the manager.  Oh, she said she has to run through the numbers and yada, yada but the reality is she is giving you to time to squirm.  She is giving you time to think that you may never get a better deal so you better jump on whatever offer she just gave you.

How do you master “She who speaks first, loses”? Practice.  Practice it with friends when they know that is what you are doing.  Ask them to play a hiring manager and not to respond to you for 2 minutes.  See if either of you can be quiet for that long.

Practice it when people don’t know what you are doing.    When people ask you a question count to five before you answer.  Ask people questions that you know will take them a moment to respond and give them the time to respond.

Practice by yourself.  Sit at home in total silence and do nothing but think.  Don’t read, don’t get on the computer, and don’t pick up the phone.  Try sitting there silently for five minutes but don’t time it.  When you think the five minutes are up…go look at the time.  It probably is closer to 1 minute than 5 minutes.  Work you way up to five minutes.

When you master this important tactic in negotiating it will give you the air of calm confidence.  A confidence that will scream  “I know what I’m worth and what the job should pay and I will accept nothing less.”

Good luck and enjoy the silence.


@ Copyright 2011, Katie Donovan. All rights reserved. Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited