MIT researchers say this is the ultimate power move in a negotiation

One of the most impactful elements of the Reid Techniquean interrogation method developed by its namesake back in the 1950s, involves sustained periods of silence.

A new paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology builds upon the strength of this approach in a negotiation with a study conducted by researchers at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

According to the authors, extended periods of silence improves critical thinking faculties for both parties engaged in bilateral negotiations. The team was able to measure silence intervals with the help of a computer algorithm.

“Two theoretical perspectives are tested—(1) an internal reflection perspective, whereby silence leads to a deliberative mindset, which in turn prompts value creation, and (2) a social perception perspective, whereby silence leads to intimidation and value claiming,” the authors wrote in the report.

“Study 1 reveals a direct correlation between naturally-occurring silent pauses lasting at least 3 seconds (extended silence) and value creation behaviors and outcomes. Study 2 shows that instructing one or both parties to use extended silence leads to value creation.”

In the first leg of the analysis, participants entered a controlled laboratory setting two at a time. Each was subsequently assigned to one of two roles candidate or recruiter, during a mock negotiation simulation.

The goal was to reach an agreement on an employment compensation package.

Periods of silence greater than 3 seconds reliably led to breakthroughs for both the candidate and the recruiter.

A total of four studies funded the conclusion posited by the authors. In addition to the two indexed above, two further studies demonstrated a greater deliberative mindset (a state that denotes cognitive control) for the participants and a reduction in” fixed-pie perceptions.” This term refers to a negotiators’ beliefs that the counterparty’s interests and priorities are in opposition to their own interests and priorities.

In all four studies, breakthroughs more consistently followed pauses in conversation compared to any other point during negotiations.

“Findings of Study 3 also suggest a boundary condition whereby when status differences are salient, the use of silence by higher-status parties leads to value creation, whereas the use of silence by lower-status parties does not,” the authors continued.

“Finally, Study 4 shows that instructing negotiators to use silence is more effective for value creation than instructing them to problem-solve. Challenging the social perception perspective that silence is a form of intimidation, we find no evidence for any associations between extended silence and the proportion of value claimed or subjective value of the counterpart.”

Independently conducted research has come to similar conclusions.

The S.T.O.P method, for instance, is a celebrated practice in cognitive behavioral therapy studied to induce clarity during intense situations. This mindfulness tool is less about molding a subject’s impression of you, and more about ensuring you put your best foot forward.

It also has the added benefit of advertising to a listener that you are engaged with their words as opposed to waiting for them to stop speaking. The elements include the following:

Stop what you are doing: Press the pause button on your thoughts and actions.

Take a few deep breaths to center yourself and bring yourself fully into the present moment.

Observe what is going on with your physical sensations, emotions, and the assumptions you are making about your feelings

Proceed with whatever you were doing, making a conscious, intentional choice to incorporate what you just learned.

Similarly, the Awkward SIlence, alternatively called the pregnant pause, was made famous by the late Apple CEO, Steve Jobs. T

The magnate would take 20 seconds to respond to a barbed critique to both answer it efficiently and ensure the speaker knows that he’s meaningfully considering it.

“When put on the spot to respond to a tricky question or comment, negotiators often feel as though they must reply immediately so as not to appear weak or disrupt the flow of the negotiation. However, our research suggests that pausing silently can be a simple yet very effective tool to help negotiators shift from fixed pie thinking to a more reflective state of mind. This, in turn, leads to the recognition of golden opportunities to expand the proverbial pie and create value for both sides,” the authors concluded in a university release.

“In conventional wisdom, negotiation is seen as a tug of war—any gain to one side reflects a loss to the other,” he says. “But it doesn’t have to be a battle and the pie isn’t necessarily fixed. There are creative ways to address conflicts and there is more room for agreement than people assume. Our study shows that one way to find that room and spark that resourcefulness is through silence.”