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The Most Important Element in a Negotiation

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Earlier this week we did a post on negotiation and as promised, we want to deliver the most important element in a negotiation. Again, the different elements include body language, “no” does not mean “no,” negotiations in person, confidence, silence, and waiting for the first offer. When you put all of this together, you're sure to win every time.

For me, I believe the most important element in a negotiation is silence, or simply knowing when to talk and when to keep quiet. Ever play the quiet game? It’s hard! I’ll tell you I’m a talker, and I usually lose at that game. Here is a guide explaining how to use silence in negotiation so you can be successful when you make deals.

A Powerful Tactic

The reason why silence can be so powerful is because it makes people uneasy and begs for a response. In today’s world everything is fast paced, in real-time, and people want answers to their questions immediately, thanks to Google (I ask Google at least 5 questions per day). The same holds true when engaging in a conversation or negotiation; when one party gives an offer or asks if an offer is adequate, they expect an immediate response within 2-5 seconds.  The natural response for a human when met with silence is uneasiness. Silence throws us off because it disrupts the natural communication process, causing us to question ourselves and re-think what we just said. Silence can be used both for your gain and against your gain.

How to Use It


Firstly, you need to be comfortable with silence yourself. It would be unfortunate if you found yourself in a negotiation using this tactic, only to be met with silence on their end, causing you to become uneasy, and counteroffer yourself simply to break the silence. There are ways you can practice to see how well you respond to silence. Some practices include:


  • Asking a friend to sit with you for 15 minutes without saying anything. This may seem odd and like it wouldn’t work because both parties know they are trying to be silent, but you will be surprised at what happens. Someone will likely crack. Just make sure there’s nothing else to do like play on your cell phone during this silence.
  • While engaging in a normal conversation about nothing in particular, try creating silence in the conversation and test out how others respond. Take note of how long the silence usually lasts and how quickly the other party is to get irritated. This could be a fun game with that annoying telemarketer that’s called for the 4th time today 😉

Silence creates time for thought processing and allows you to think before you speak (something people don’t do enough of these days). You can use silence to sway a decision in your favor. When presenting someone with silence, nine times out of ten, the other party will speak up, often with a better counteroffer. You don’t even have to do anything, just sit back and relax.

How to Handle Silence

What if you’re in a negotiation and about to get what you want, but are met with silence? Would you recognize what they are doing? Would you become frustrated? It’s important to understand silence and when you’re being tested during a negotiation. Do not immediately change your offer because the silence makes you uneasy; instead repeat yourself and make sure they understand you correctly. You may even consider literally telling them to present a counter offer to you. The key to silence is understanding body language. Let’s analyze a few body language cues:

  • 8393928_sConcerned in Appearance– This may mean that they are not at all interested in your offer and about to back out of the negotiation. When you find someone responding to your offer with concern, it’s important not to wait too long to speak up before the other party leaves.
  • Smug Look– Chances are if they are looking around the room and showing signs of being completely disengaged from the conversation, you may want to consider rescheduling the meeting for the sake of your own time. Time is way too valuable to waste, especially if you feel the other party isn’t interested.
  • Demonstrating Impatience– This may be recognized by someone repeatedly shaking their leg or foot or clicking of their pen. This may not have anything to do with the offer you just presented, especially if they keep checking the time. If the other party is on a time-constraint, they may display impatience, but they will likely counter offer or accept in due time. There are two ways you can handle this; be patient or chime in within a short amount of time. Each situation is unique so use your intuition here.

In extreme situations, you may be met with silence for an unreasonable amount of time. If the other party remains silent for too long, even after you re-state what you have said or even counteroffer, it’s time to end the meeting. Again, time is money and you need to be aware of when your time is being wasted.

Do you think silence is the most important factor in a negotiation? Why or why not?

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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