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