Recently on an extended beach vacation, I demonstrated that I am among the best in the world at doing nothing.
I can do nothing all day long.
I don’t mean what a lot of people might think is nothing: watching a movie, reading, napping or cleaning a closet.
I really mean nothing. My companions can tell I am not catatonic because I will appear alert and observant and will reply to most questions. But, I will not move for hours except for the most basic of functions.
If I was practicing Zen, you would think it’s an art carefully honed over years of practice, but it’s not.
I am just naturally doing what I am best at: nothing.
So, it will come as no surprise that one of my favorite negotiation techniques is Silence. Silence in negotiation is doing nothing.
When does silence help? I use Silence in three main ways:
1. To give an air of suspicion, finality or drama after a definitive statement such as a settlement offer or liability assessment
2. To deal with an emotional person
3. When I am jammed and need time to come up with a creative solution
In the first case, when someone makes a ridiculous offer, a long silence can show your suspicion or frustration. After your incredibly fair and well-explained offer, the silence means you have ‘said it all’.
In the second case, after correctly identifying the person’s emotion and the reason for it, silence helps move the person to resolution by implying there is nothing else you can or will do.
It is the final case where silence is truly golden. In a study released by the Sloan School of Business at MIT, researchers found silence improves outcomes for all parties to a negotiation.
“When put on the spot to respond to a tricky question or comment, negotiators often feel as though they must reply immediately so as not to appear weak or disrupt the flow of the negotiation,” said the study. “The research suggests that pausing silently can be a simple yet very effective tool to help negotiators shift from fixed-pie thinking to a more reflective state of mind…which in turn, leads to the recognition of golden opportunities to expand the proverbial pie and create value for both sides.”
Many people think of Negotiation as an Art, and I am one of them. The great artist and composer Claude Debussy said, “Music is the space between the notes.”
In negotiations, silence is the space between the offer and the acceptance, the Space Between the Notes.
My mom always said someday I would elevate doing nothing to an Art Form.
And now, I have.