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6 Times You Absolutely Must Shut Up During Negotiation Conversations

When it comes to conversation, “silence” is usually preceded by “awkward.” We usually attempt to fill the gap with the first thing we can think of -- getting more and more frantic as the seconds tick on.

But during negotiation discussions, silence is actually a rep’s best friend. Not only can it often mean the difference between favorable terms and average (or even bad) ones, it can sometimes mean the difference between a win and a loss.

Take a look at the six times during negotiation meetings you should say nothing (seriously: Not. A. Thing.)

1) As soon as the pleasantries are over.

Start the negotiation call on a friendly note with a warm greeting and a few rapport-building questions -- then it’s time to stop talking. Some reps immediately rush to offer discounts or adjusted terms if their buyer doesn’t speak up. Yet while this might show the prospect you’re willing to compromise, it frequently leads to compromises you didn’t need to make to close.

If you're not comfortable going completely silent after the introduction, use a neutral question or statement like, "What are your thoughts on the proposal?" or "I sent you the contract yesterday."

This puts the ball in your prospect's court. You may find she has minor (or even zero) proposed changes. If that's the case, you'll be glad you didn't lead with a discount.

2) Right after you’ve laid out a term.

It’s critical to cut yourself off as soon as you’ve introduced a stipulation or detail of the deal. 

To give you an idea of how this silence plays to your advantage in a negotiation conversation, check out this sample dialogue:

The prospect: So, how much would the additional onboarding cost?

You: $250 per employee. We also offer a video-enabled session for a $1,200 flat fee.

[3-5 seconds of silence]

The prospect: Okay, I guess that works.

Reps who keep going after they throw out a number often end up rambling, which makes them seem less confident and ultimately weakens their bargaining power. Even worse, you may end up unintentionally making concessions.

It’s possible the buyer will push after you've given them a term, but you’ll have ample opportunity to find that out in just a few seconds -- and you won’t give up any negotiating authority in the process.

3) When the prospect has made a counter-offer.

Keeping quiet right after the other person has made their own offer is difficult. That’s because society has taught us to take conversational “turns,” so by skipping yours, you’re violating a lifetime of convention.

But this fact also plays to your advantage -- because it puts you in control. Whether or not the prospect ends up modifying his offer, at the very least you’ll get a chance to think about what he’s putting forward and come up with a thoughtful response.

When you’re negotiating in person, simply nod once or twice and wait. But if you’re on the phone, the buyer might confuse your silence as a sign you didn’t hear them, so say, “I see …” and then let the pause begin.

4) Any time the prospect is speaking.

There will be multiple times during the negotiation you’ll probably want to cut in: When the other person makes a wrong assumption, brings up a completely unworkable suggestion, takes a long time getting to their point, etc.

Ignore the temptation to interject. Not only does it come across as aggressive and potentially disrespectful, but you never know what valuable information you’re missing by ambushing the buyer mid-sentence.

For example, he might begin, “We’re a fairly new company, so I’m not sure a two-year commitment -- ”

You burst in, “Oh, don’t worry, we can agree to check in at the 12-month mark, and if you’re not happy, you can end the service with no penalty.”

Crisis averted, you think. Too bad the buyer was actually going to say, “I’m not sure a two-year commitment with a 50-user cap is a good idea, since we’re projected to reach 400 employees by the end of 2018.”

The takeaway: Don't begin speaking until the prospect has clearly ended their comment.

5) When the buyer makes a ridiculous ask.

Prospects sometimes throw out unreasonable demands to see your reaction, test your composure, and ultimately, get a better deal.

The optimal response is staying mum. If you noticeably react ("That's impossible," "I definitely can't meet that price," "There's no way we can fulfill that promise," etc.), you'll look rattled. In addition, acknowledging the buyer's demand makes it seem more valid -- even if you're rejecting it.

However, if you say nothing at all, you'll subtly show your disapproval of their unjustified request. They'll usually feel pressured into retracting it.

To see how this might play out, here's a hypothetical conversation:

Prospect: "My boss would love to get the price down to the range of $5-8 per square feet."

[3-5 seconds of silence.]

Prospect: "I know that's pretty far from your quote, so I'll talk to her."

Rep: "What are her priorities for purchases like these? We can find another area of the deal to compromise on."

6) If you notice you’re taking up all the air-time.

Doing the majority of the talking might seem like a good thing. After all, doesn’t it mean you’re in charge?

Unfortunately, no. If you hog the conversational spotlight, you completely lose the chance to discover your prospect’s needs, priorities, and lingering doubts. A buyer who’s 90% confident in her decision to buy won’t sign a contract until you’ve answered her remaining objections -- so you need to shut up to hear her out.

And even if you are addressing the things on her mind, no one likes feeling bulldozed into a decision. You could lose the deal simply because you won't stop talking.

With that mind, pay attention to how much you’re saying versus your prospect. If it begins to feel like a presentation rather than a conversation, dial down the verbosity.

Those crickets you hear? They might make you feel awkward at first, but soon they'll make you feel awesome -- because they mean you're probably about to close the deal. So next time you enter a negotiation, remember success hinges just as much on when you don’t talk as when you do.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in May 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and freshness.

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