Understanding silence is a powerful business tool

Staying silent can be an advantage in everything from closing sales deals to negotiating pay

Understanding silence is a powerful business tool
Cultures perceive silence differently – and understanding these nuances can be a powerful tool for doing business internationally, according to a report by the BBC.

While silence can be seen as perplexing or awkward in certain cultures, others see it as a sign of respect following another person’s statement in a conversation or even a moment of reflection.

For Dutch and English speakers, a four-second stretch of silence in a conversation causes an unsettling feeling. For Japanese speakers in business meetings, silence is used as a way to shift topics, according to a separate study.

Knowing that silence can make English speakers feel awkward in part makes it a powerful tool, the BBC said.

Gavin Presman, a sales expert and director of UK-based training and development provider Inspire, always pauses right after he makes a pitch. “We often think that silence is people simply not speaking,” said Presman. “But it allows both people to settle down and reflect a bit deeper.”

Early in her career, Katie Donovan, founder of US-based consultancy Equal Pay Negotiations, was offered a job on the spot following an interview. She told the interviewer that she would get back to him after a week, and remained sitting silently. The interviewer then increased the offer. Donovan repeated her tactic and saw the interview make a third and higher offer, which she finally accepted.

“More than product knowledge or anything else, silence is the hardest technique to learn,” Donovan told the BBC. “It’s against our instincts. We want to fill in the blanks.”

To learn this technique, Donovan recommends practicing with friends and colleagues. “Ask a simple question, like ‘What did you do at the weekend?’ And then shut up. Once you’ve practiced keeping quiet it’s very useful throughout your whole life, from hanging out with friends to buying a house,” she said.

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