Think back to the last time you experience a moment where during a conversation an elongated pause or silence occurred between you and the other person, inevitably leading you to think in the moment “this is awkward”.
Perhaps you were in a social setting, on a date, in a debate, or even at work. Whatever the situation may have been it’s highly likely you did or thought about saying something in moment just to end the awkwardness of the deafening silence between you and the other person. If in fact you acted and said something in order to break the uncomfortableness of the silence know that you just failed one of the basic lessons taught to many professionals about the art of negotiations.
Don’t feel bad, it happens to all of us. Here’s why…
While the situation you were just thinking about may not have had anything to do with a negotiation, the action you took and therefore the outcome is all too reminiscent of a typical negotiation setting.
Did you know many people in a professional ‘buying’ role are trained on how to deal and negotiate with a seller? Meaning, they’ve been taught a ‘buyers strategy’ on how to negotiate with sellers in order to get an outcome which is more favorable to them as the buyer.
I know this because I’ve been through the class. Many companies train their key people in decision making positions, such as leadership, buyers, purchasing, contract managers, etc. to use an interesting tactic in negotiations which is the ‘pause’. It’s a devilish and fairly simple tactic that works like a charm with sellers, especially those who aren’t particularly skilled with negotiations. Here’s how the ‘pause’ from a buyer works:
Seller: Well Tom, we can certainly provide you with 10k units of ABS molded tubing at $3.85 per meter.
Buyer: Doesn’t say anything in response to the sellers pricing comment; buyer just sits there with a smug look on his face starring at the seller creating an uncomfortable and certainly awkward silence.
Seller (20 seconds into the awkward silence): Actually, you know what Tom, we can probably get that number down to $3.40 per meter if you’re able to sign off on a PO today.
And there you have it.
The art of negotiation at times is nothing more than a pause; flat out no response at all, no reaction. When an inexperienced seller is confronted with a pause in a negotiation they squirm in their seat to the point where they feel compelled to say something in an effort to get out of the awkwardness and hopefully move the discussion closer towards the sale. They then break the number one rule of negotiations, “whoever responds 1st loses”, and blurts out another offer.
The buyer may have had every intention to buy the sellers product, they were just trained better in the art of negotiations to know that sometimes patience and not responding to the first offer can get you a better deal.
It happens all the time.
If you’re a consultant the art of negotiation is very much the same. Many times a client early in a conversation will put a consultant on the spot by asking “what is your rate?”. Most people and or consultants hate that question, especially if it’s early in the discussion as they haven’t been able to ask enough questions to better understand the client or buyers needs. As a result, the consultant throws out a figure with limited information which further puts him or her in a back peddling position defending their rate and or service with the client.
If you find yourself in a conversation where the rate question comes out early in the discussion the best way to address it is, yep, you guessed it – use the ‘pause’.
Pauses also work on the sellers side too.
Utilizing a pause, a momentary stalling in discussion, allows you to adjust and think before blurting out an answer. Peter Bregman’s book ‘4 Seconds’ talks about the power of pause and how even a 4 second pause before responding can dramatically improve your outcomes.
“What’s your rate?”, the buyer asks.
“My rates are based on the work I’m performing, length and difficulty of the project. For this reason I don’t use a standard rate for my work and would need to understand more details of your project before I can ensure I’m the right person for the job.”
Basically, you’re saying ‘I’m not a commodity, so don’t treat me that way’. You also didn’t rush into giving them a price which may or may not be reflective of the work the client needs completed. You ‘paused’ as the seller and backed up in order to reframe the conversation in a way that helps both you and the client learn more about one another’s capabilities.
Key Take Away:
If you’re in a negotiation don’t rush to fill silence with a comment that might work against you down the road. Stew in the pause, in the silence. You may find the person on the other side of the table cracks before you do.
Read the book by Peter Bregman called ‘4 Seconds’. It’s a quick read and provides great insight and perspective on how utilizing a pause, even 4 seconds, can dramatically change the outcome of your conversations, actions and even relationships.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.