How to successfully negotiate by using silence

You worry over what to say during critical meetings in your career, such as in interviews and negotiations, but what if you leveraged the power of silence to get what you deserve? Most people think silences are awkward and a sign of weakness in negotiation, but that’s far from the truth.

Those awkward silences you fear may help you navigate a negotiation with success. The key lies in what you don’t say, rather than what you do say. Here are five tips on using silence to negotiate, and it all centers on embracing the pause.

1. Say it out loud and wait

Want more hourly pay? Ask: “Any chance you will go up to $x?” Say what you want and wait. It may take the other person time to sift through the question, all while feeling the need to fill the silence.

Rather than you rambling about why you want or deserve the raise to fill the silence, you appear authoritative and patient. And now, make the most of that silence.

2. Use positive and neutral body language

Don’t look away or like you’re mocking them. Keep eye contact. Relax your shoulders, and direct a friendly yet confident posture toward them with a gentle smile. Don’t let your body language contradict what you negotiate for — look confidently into their eyes as you wait for a response. When your nonverbal communication matches your verbal, it reinforces the power of the message, point or question.

People often forget that other forms of language exist beyond the verbal. Body language is the oldest form of communication. What does your body language say in a tough negotiation? Do you feel forced to break the silence first?

3. Silence builds suspense

Storytelling proves a valuable asset during negotiations as you detail specific instances of your valuable contributions. Storytellers use various tools to bring the moral of the story home and create the right kind of tension. A great story uses suspense.

Silence builds suspense as the stakes rise, and the more tension your story creates, the more suspense you cultivate. That means your ending gains power and steam if you pace yourself correctly. Slow down during critical moments, and pause when necessary.

Great speakers use pauses all the time, such as in TED talks. Powerfully used pauses communicate someone thoughtful who takes the time to consider a point or message, and when given to another, lends the other person time to weigh the issue. Think before you accept an initial offer, since the pause may provoke a quicker reaction from the opposite party not to risk your rejection, gifting you with a higher salary. Suspense hangs in the air since humans feel compelled to fill the silence.

4. Silence grounds you in your need

You spend ample time preparing for the negotiation, and you go into the meeting knowing exactly what you need and deserve. You have data and evidence to back up your contributions and worthiness and feel ready to go.

In the middle of the negotiation, your nerves act up, and your train of thought derails. Starting to doubt yourself? Use silence to ground yourself and get back on track.

Silence centers you in the present moment and slows you down enough to look at your internal processing. You end up practicing dual awareness as both participant and observer. Any anxiety or doubt you feel doesn’t represent your core or reflect badly on your accomplishments — those are still stellar. Get that derailed thought train back on track, and use silence to ground yourself in your needs. Half the battle is knowing what you’re negotiating for, and when you feel the need behind it, you’re more likely to bring that passion to the table.

5. Pausing allows you to listen and learn

Tactical silence is your new negotiation strategy, your ally when you hit a stalemate. You need to reach a breakthrough, but you’re unable to see eye to eye on the deal points. Prepare to embrace the pause, even though you may feel like you’re really doing nothing.

The power of the pause allows you to listen and learn. Doing nothing at that moment helps the negotiation move along because communication still occurs. You actively listen with all your senses and have time to process the other party’s body language, along with the flow of the meeting.

People don’t like ambiguity. Trust that the silence gets filled in your favor. Negotiation itself stretches like a tension-filled tightrope tugged as a conversation between two people. Placement matters, as does the pause.

Silence is golden, they say, and it’ll bring home the gold when used strategically. You can train your relationship to pausing and silence through practicing mindfulness — the art of present, sensory awareness. Stay in the moment with yourself, breathe and observe without judgment.

Silence empowers you to develop awareness, move through tough situations and gain space to give or receive an answer — especially one that gets you the numbers, perks and benefits you deserve.

You may feel afraid that being silent during a negotiation makes you look like you offered up a nonverbal threat, but that’s not the case. The pause gives the other party a chance to take in what you said and have offered in the past through your stellar skillset and level of experience.

When you control the pause, you stealthily steer the negotiation without tipping off the boss. Of course, you won’t spend the whole meeting in silence like a monk. You still need to state your case and back up what you say. Silence will help you pace yourself, refocus on your needs and achieve your negotiation goals.

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