When I talk to freelancers and artists about why they’re afraid of negotiating I often hear
“What if I don’t know what to say? What if they say something outrageous and I don’t know what to say and end up blurting out ‘yes’?”
It’s a perfectly rational thing to worry about. And you wouldn’t be the first one to do it if it happened.
There are a lot of different ways to potentially deal with not knowing what to say, but one of the most effective is often the least appreciated: don’t say anything at all.
Silence is Powerful
Silence is a powerful psychological tool in negotiating because silence makes people uncomfortable.
The next time you’re talking with a friend and there is a lull in the conversation, try to be silent. Try not to be the first one who speaks.
It’s hard! As social animals we humans like to impress each other and often times we do that by talking and sharing stories.
When there is silence in a conversation there’s an urge to fill the space by talking even if we don’t necessarily have anything to say.
Saying something after a lull is a way of asking, “Are you still paying attention to me? Do you like me? Look at this great thing I can do; be my friend!”
When you choose to remain silent in a negotiation, either because you want to think about what’s just been said to you or because you aren’t sure what you want to say, you temporarily remove yourself from the Impress One Another Olympics of conversation.
You signal to the other person that you don’t need their approval or interest in that particular moment; you’re fine on your own.
In a negotiation, each party needs something from the other. The party that appears to need the other the least often has the upper hand in framing the negotiation.
Silence Begets Information
That discomfort that silence can create is easily lessened once the conversation begins again.
If you don’t know what to say, by giving yourself some time to think and quietly contemplate what they’ve told you, you encourage them to try and initiate the conversation again.
And what they say might surprise you.
They may take your silence as skepticism of the deal and offer up more information to convince you of what a great deal they’re giving you, or they may back down from that outrageous offer they just threw out.
They may take your silence as confusion and try to explain the deal to you in greater detail.
They may take your silence as a stalling tactic and fluster about how the deal won’t be around forever and you need to make a decision now. The more insistent they are the better picture you’ll have of (1) how they handle stress and (2) how badly they really want the deal.
The point is: silence can encourage the other person to offer up more information, and maybe even talk themselves into giving you a better deal without you having to do anything at all.
How To Be Silent
If you decide to deploy the powerful weapon that is silence, don’t do so willy nilly.
In addition to appearing powerful, silence can also come off as rude if you’re not careful.
- Give it a while. The first few seconds of silence are easy, but the next ten to twenty can be hard to get through without cracking. It’s worth it to keep your trap shut though because that’s usually when they will feel most compelled to start talking.
- Remain engaged. If the negotiation is in person use body language that indicates you’re paying attention: face the other person and look at them. Try not to stare at your shoes or turn your body away from them. If you can’t look at them for the full amount of time you’re silent, focus on the notes you’ve been taking during the conversation. Pick up your pen and really examine what you’ve written.
- If you feel the urge to speak, try to avoid explaining yourself. Instead, ask questions or use short phrases to encourage the other person to keep talking. “Uh-huh,” “OK” and “Tell me more,” are all helpful phrases. If you go blank, repeat the last thing that they said and pose it as a question. “A 40/60 royalty split on all merchandise?”
If you don’t know what to say, don’t sweat it. You have the right to remain silent in a negotiation. Use it and you might just get the upper hand.
Categories: Negotiation Strategy