Steve Jobs once did this for 20 seconds and it became a legendary power move

Behavioral psychology is our best shot at navigating an inherently impossible field of study: the human mind. Its application in criminal law has come under scrutiny recently for this very reason.

To a growing professional majority, claiming to know a suspect’s intent based on their reaction to an unusual set of circumstances (drug-induced psychosis, murder charges, missing person cases) is a deficient method when life imprisonment or death is a potential outcome.

But what about behavioral psychology’s usefulness when applied to pedestrian scenarios?  Are there surefire ways to interpret and traverse social interactions? For the most part, yes.

In this exploration of human kinetic techniques, we’re going to explore the utility of silence.

When well placed, periods of engineered stillness can be used to gauge a recipient’s intentions while concurrently advertising authority on behalf of the initiator.

Deafening Quiet

Consider for a moment the palpable power shift that would invariably tail a moment of silence in a negotiating settingIt doesn’t really matter what the desired objective is.

You want something that has to be bargained for and your associate makes an insufficient offer. Instead of prattling on about the value of your offer, you pose a calm, economic: Why is it in my best interest to agree to your terms?

Once your associate responds, maintain eye contact but don’t say another word for a moment or two. This is what is known in psychology as The Pause Technique. 

Its implementation informs the speaker that their words are inadequate. The more they talk, the more the dynamic shifts in your favor—even if the opposing party began negotiations with more leverage than you.

Your silence loudly says that you know the value of your offer, which allows you to wait until you receive a reliable indication to play ball. It’s an effective and subtle stress inducer so long as you utilize it sparingly.

Pauses that exceed a few seconds can neutralize any social points gained prior. In industries where certain groups start fighting an uphill battle, the importance of nuance can’t be overstated.

“After a subject answers a question or finishes the recitation of his version of a sequence of events, try waiting a few seconds before you respond.  With your facial expression and physical demeanor give the subject the subtle cue that you expect that there is actually more information that he or she should divulge.  Your pause can also give the subject the impression that you may know more than they realize and you expect them to be forthcoming.,” public agency council member, Stan Walters explains.


Taking a moment or two before engaging with a subject yields many different benefits.

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 can be broken down into four easy steps:

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.

This can be done while employing the pause technique but not as a rule, of course. Even with extensive planning, we’re often poisoned by the tendency to crumble under pressure.

With the S.T.O.P technique, we can recalibrate, fix our goals into our reticle, and craft our strongest impression in accordance with those.

“S.T.O.P is primarily used to introduce mindful experience throughout your day when you need it most. Even after a good mindfulness meditation in the morning, it’s easy to quickly get caught up in all of the stresses and activities of daily life,” The Los Angeles Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Institute reports. “By applying mindfulness to these experiences during your day, your mind will be on autopilot less, and you will be able to check-in with how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and what behavior you’re engaging in. ”

Uncomfortable silences 

The last silence modus we’re going to review is known as The Awkward SIlence, alternatively called the pregnant pause.  It’s sort of a creative merger of the first two techniques in many ways.

When posed with a question, instead of jumping to a response, the subject sits with it while pondering it deeply in silence.

This technique was made famous by tech giants noted for their intuition. During a famous exchange (viewable here on youtube), the late Apple CEO, Steve Jobs took 20 seconds to respond to a barbed critique regarding his output over the last decade.

After beginning and then committing to another eight-second pause, Jobs ultimately responded with: “One of the hardest things, when you’re trying to effect change, is that–people like this gentleman–are right! …In some areas.”

Jobs, who made no efforts to hide his faith in mindfulness practices were known to utilize the Awkward silence technique in response to criticism and consultation alike.

In a rare demonstration of restraint from the magnate, the quote highlights the power silence has to deescalate a potentially tense interaction and delegitimize what was maybe a fair critique in the eyes of investors.

You would certainly be forgiven for having gripes with South African SpaceX, industrial designer,  Elon Musk in the last couple of months, but his gambler hand is hard to discredit.

“If you pose to [Elon] a serious question,” Garrett Reisman, an engineer and former astronaut who left NASA to join SpaceX said in a media release. “He’ll consider it. And he’ll kind of go into this, almost like a trance–he’ll stare off into space and you can see the wheels turning. And he’s focusing all of his intellect, which is considerable, on this one question.”

These principled lapses in conversation will almost certainly breed uncomfortable moments. However, when a question is put to you; you owe to yourself and the recipient to give progressive dialogue all the time it needs.

According to consultant and emotional intelligence expert, Justin Bariso to affect The Awkward Silence rule follows these six steps:

  • Buy yourself time to think
  • Put yourself in the driver’s seat
  • Keep yourself calm
  • Increase your confidence
  • Produce better, more quality answers
  • Say what you mean, and mean what you say