Friday, March 25, 2005

The Sound of Silence

My friend Ben Casnocha recently posted about how talking slow generates credibility when making a sales presentation. He's absolutely right, but not talking at all is even more important.

Silence is one of the most powerful tools in a salesman or negotiator's arsenal. It is very human to fill dead air. Silence is uncomfortable, even embarassing. But that's what makes it so powerful.

You can use silence to your advantage by getting the other party to say things that they hadn't planned or wanted to reveal.

Moreover, if you are making a sales call, silence is the most likely way to find out what the customer's real needs and issues are.

Of course, like any powerful tool, silence needs to be used carefully. I deploy silence judiciously. Usually, I'll ask a question that I want answered. If the answer is cursory or evasive, I'll simply sit there silently. Often, the other party will eventually crumble and say something just to make the silence go away--that's when I move in and try to probe deeper.

In some cases, however, the other party may have the same strategy. Ultimately, a 1 minute silence is embarrassing and counterproductive. If the silence doesn't produce the desired response within 15 seconds, I advise moving on and trying again later. Silently humming a bar of the Jeopardy theme usually works for me!

As always, use your judgment. If you overuse the silence gambit, the conversation will have no flow. But used properly, it can help you gain much greater insights into what the other party in a conversation is thinking.

Can you think of an occasion when silence would have helped you get more out of a sales call or negotiation?

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