The Power of Silence


I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have witnessed a well-meaning seller walk straight past a critical moment of client decision-making by not availing themselves of the great power of Silence. Across many cultures and traditions, silence is often revered as a way to derive focus, peace and power.

But as Americans we are often on the lower end of the bell curve of this dynamic given the constant state of connectivity which our culture drives and our business demands.  The reality is that we live in a world of activity, action and noise and to a large extent, there is little we can do about the general state of this cultural reality. But nevertheless, the lessons of silence are critical for us to harness for successful major account selling.

I don’t want to oversimplify this issue and I realize that there is much more to strategic selling than just knowing when to keep your mouth shut. For example, deep immersion, defined as a profound and comprehensive understanding of your sales prospect, is always required in order to advance a major sale to a profitable end, there are no short cuts there. But assuming that the foundational work has been done, there comes a moment when a buyer sitting across from a seller is coming to a conclusion. This is the moment:

  • When the water is about to boil…
  • When a decision is about to made…
  • When we need to respect the importance of that moment by closing our mouths…

And that moment really matters.

The “3 Beat Principle” of Active Listening.

According to those who study semantics and comprehension, the average “listener” is 3 beats behind a speaker they are listening to.  In other words, what we are saying at this moment wont actually be comprehended until several moments after the words have been spoken.  This means that we are in a perpetual state of “bringing up the rear”. As a result when a question is asked of some importance we need to be patient, wait for the question to be fully understood and then be quiet for the answer!

With all this in mind, I would offer three important and simple tips to leverage the power of silence:

  1. One thought/question at a time.  If you ask a question, don’t ask it another way immediately afterwards.  Don’t shape the question, offer additional facets or extensions, or actually ask a second question (!) within the context of the first.  Just ask it politely and wait for a response.
  2. Don’t get antsy.  When someone is mulling something over, it may feel unnatural of strained to sit there quietly… we always want to fill the air, but resist the urge.  Your prospect is thinking and needs time to process and if you babble you will lose that opportunity to derive a positive outcome.
  3. Quiet is Leverage.  Prospects feel the same way about silence generally as you do.  They don’t like it.  Which means that if you ask a question, let it sit.  Even if they don’t reply.  Balls in the their court, and if you break the silence you may lose the opportunity to advance.  If the question is one derived from deep immersion in the client and is well positioned, the answer will be worth waiting for.

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