Nature abhors a vacuum, and people seem to despise silence just as much. Perhaps it’s human nature, but most of us rush to fill silence, even if doing so betrays our bargaining position, gives details we didn’t intend to give or shows disrespect to the other person in conversation.
“Silence isn’t valued by the dominant culture in the United States,” says Felicia Van Deman, faculty member in the Department of Communications at Grand Canyon University. “It is by many microcultures here, but for individualistic, low-restraint, low-power distance societies who practice masculine value systems, it’s atypical to appreciate silence. In the United States we are more comfortable with uncertainty and less comfortable with silence, so we tend to speak rather than not.”
Fighting the urge to fill a void in conversation and letting silence stand can benefit us in both personal and professional contexts. Let’s look at how to leverage the power of silence.
Using silence in negotiations
Silence is a well-known sales tactic. When you find yourself in negotiations, you would be wise to ask a question of your prospect, and then shut up. Your target is more apt to spill details that tip their hand when they’re trying to fill a silence. The quieter you remain, the more they talk, giving you vital information that you can use in negotiations.
“Make an offer,” says Ashley Kruger, an entrepreneur from Phoenix, “and then close your mouth, no matter how awkward it gets. One time I sat across from a prospect for 10 full minutes. Ten full minutes. He broke the silence first — and guess who closed the deal? I did.”
Conversely, if you’re the prospect, you might find yourself in a position of power by shutting up. As Steve Gates writes in “The Negotiation Book,” the person before you is apt to fill the silence with an offer.
Using silence to demonstrate value in your personal life
And then there’s silence with our friends, partners and loved ones. Here, the nature of its role is significantly different — and perhaps even more important.
“Being silent when interacting with someone is one of the best ways to show respect,” says writer Nicki Escudero. “Silence indicates active listening. It lets others express themselves to their fullest potential, how they want to. It allows all parties to thoughtfully consider the conversation, which makes subsequent interactions more effective.”
The power of silence in our personal lives lies in these facts:
Listening is a sign of respect
You can’t say anything you regret if you’re silent
When you do speak, you can do so deliberately and thoughtfully
It helps the other person feel heard and understood
In addition, when you use silence to truly listen to what people say, it enables you to understand their character easier and sooner than had you been talking.
How do you use silence in your personal and professional lives?
Don’t be silent now. Tweet @StarterNoise to let us know how the power of silence is working for you.
Derek Rundell, is a successful business leader, operator, and serial entrepreneur. Derek has founded, managed and sold businesses in the technology, media and finance industries. He sits on several boards and serves as an advisor/investor to numerous established businesses and startups. Startups are Derek’s real passion, and in addition to building his own portfolio of technology, media and financial ventures, he invests in and mentors startups and entrepreneurs. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge and helping other businesses succeed.