Negotiating with a Silent Counterpart

Quiet business woman listening to negotiation counterpart

Have you ever negotiated with someone that sits across the table from you, never changes their expression and doesn’t say one word? There is nothing more intimidating than to realize that you’re doing all the talking in this negotiation and your counterpart is just staring at you. When you do ask them a question, they usually just lean back, put their hands behind their head and say something profound like, “Yep” or “Nope.” Participants ask, “Do you have any suggestions for dealing with this silent treatment?” Yes, we do. We have three.

Tip number one: When you do open your mouth to speak, always ask open-ended questions. Why is this so important? When in the presence of a silent intimidator, you’re almost always becoming very nervous, and when you do become nervous, you tend to ask closed-ended questions such as, “Do you like this product?” or “Have you used this product before?” Then the silent negotiator looks at you and says, “Yep.” “Nope.” You’re better off to ask open-ended questions, questions that begin with who, what, where, when, how and why that force your counterpart to talk.

Tip number two: Exhibit positive, non-verbal communication. When you’re nervous, you usually lack confidence. And when you lack confidence, you tend to lean away from your counterpart. We encourage you to lean forward. Have your arms open, your hands open, your face tilted towards the counterpart, and almost like you’re leaning in to get closer to them, excited by what they are about to say. This exhibits confidence and confidence works well in negotiation.

Tip number three: Listen well and ask questions to explore what your counterpart has just said. When we’re feeling nervous or intimidated, we tend to be thinking about what we’re going to say next and we tend to not listen well. Make a point of listening so well that you’re able to ask another open-ended question to explore what the silent intimidator has just said.

So the next time you meet a counterpart who treats you with a dose of silence, remember: ask open-ended questions, exhibit positive non-verbal communication and listen so well that you can ask another open-ended question about what they just said.

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