Posted over 6 years ago

Staying Silent: Overcoming the Urge to Defeat Yourself

From early childhood we are taught how to communicate with one another.   The trait of being easy to converse with is praised and highly sought after in both the private and professional worlds.  We learn what is appropriate to say and when it is appropriate to say it and are taught to avoid that awkward situation when no one is saying a word.  In a social setting, someone who can break that silence is a hero, the life of the party, but during negotiations that person often loses.
The silent treatment is one of the most powerful tools in negotiations…why? Because the other party becomes uncomfortable and will sometimes do anything to end that awkward moment, even giving concessions they had not planned on.  I have faced this challenge myself and it has proven difficult to overcome.  Being an extrovert I have never had a problem breaking the silence in a room and I rarely have problems continuing a conversation, even when other may wish it would end.  However, it did not take too many real estate negotiations to realize this is not always a good thing.   I first learned I had to control my big mouth while negotiating for a distressed property I planned to purchase, rehab, and resell.  After one round of negotiations I expected to hear back from the other party.  When I didn’t after several days I called back.  By the end of the conversation I had come up several thousand dollars on my offer without even realizing it.  The next day I received another counter offer, which I promptly countered myself.  When several more days went by again, I picked up the phone. By the end of the conversation I had given up several concessions and upped my offer once again.  
What was going on?  I was being beaten in two ways.  Not only were they silent in opening negotiations, they were silent during negotiations…literally.  On the phone they would say very little, leaving me to do the talking.  In fact, it was similar to a scene out of Fight Club, me fighting my alter ego.   Luckily for me, I became aware of this problem, but only after my business partner pointed out my flaw.  Luckily again, we did not put that property under contract, which was a good thing considering we were beyond our designated “max purchase price”.   Looking back, I realize the power I was giving the seller by appearing desperate.  By constantly initiating conversation and changing my position, I was not winning the negotiation, nor was I making the seller beat me…I was defeating myself.  Knowing when to speak up and when to be silent can be difficult, but overcoming the fear of awkward silence has been the single greatest factor in my growth as a negotiator. 
Learning to utilize silence also taught me a much more important lesson, the significance of self-awareness.  Knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and your quirks is essential to increasing your success ceiling.  Once you know, you can make the necessary adjustments and use your traits to your advantage.  As GI Joe says “knowing is half the battle”. 
And for those of you wondering, my wife just told me she has not noticed my newly discovered ability to be silent…I did not reply. Winning!
James W. Vermillion III

Comments (7)

  1. Thanks Shane! I really have enjoyed learning more about the art of negotiating...and I will be the first to admit I still have a lot to learn.

  2. I LOVE negotiation discussions. Thanks for a great read :)

  3. Bryan A. I have fallen for the nod so many times (I am a sucker for good bourbon)! Interesting how easily influenced we can be. As for the photo, GQ wouldn't publish my photo! Jon K. I am sure there is a lot of truth to that. Our society places a lot of emphasis on we look. Have you ever seen any of those shows where people automatically listen and award authority based on what someone is wearing, without validating credentials? Kind of scary. Sharon Vornholt thanks for the comments...I like the saying. So nice to see another Kentuckian!

  4. Great post James this is so true! Definitely very uncomfortable but works. I have seen this tactic work on so many occasions, however, it is not talked about very often as an important topic. I'm glad you brought this to the surface.

  5. Great article. There is a saying that I try to remember that goes something like this, "He who speaks first loses".Sometimes the silence is very uncomfortable, but you have to just do it anyway.

  6. Ha, GQ Looking more professional than the one you are negotiating with is a long time tactic, too. One of my IT clients is an M&A firm that makes millions for negotiating well, and they spend a lot on wardrobe.

  7. good post's very true..a lot of times i sit back and let people try to figure out what i'm thinking..i also employ the sullivan's nod a lot or lead people where i want the conversation to go..for instance: potential tenant complains that i want a full deposit where the neighbor's property doesn't require a full deposit..i respond, "well, i just put a lot of money into rehabbing this apartment, and so i need a deposit to protect myself. that makes sense, right?" and then i stay silent..sometimes for a minute..i won't say anything until the tenant agrees and they understand...ahhh..the power of silence :) btw, for those wondering the sullivans nod is something i actually discovered while bartending..i would say do you want house or grey goose...and i nod when i say grey makes them nod in an agreement, mirroring me, and then saying, yep goose works :) btw, james, i can't stay silent on this one're looking very GQ in your new updated photo :)