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Why You Should Keep Your Counterpart Talking During a Negotiation

By |September 12, 2022

At a core level, negotiation is a guided discovery process. That’s why you should always be curious in your negotiations. Otherwise, you can’t discover new information—particularly when you’re the one doing the talking.

If you’re talking, you’re probably explaining. And as Ronald Reagan once said: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”Trying to Keep Someone Talking

So if your goal during a negotiation is to uncover new information, you need to keep your mouth shut and the other side talking. This is where Dynamic Silence™ enters the equation. 

It’s Hard to Stay Quiet

In theory, staying silent should be the easiest skill to execute. But over the years, we’ve learned that it’s actually the hardest.

Most people feel they are ceding their opportunity and giving their counterparts an advantage by falling silent. This speaks to their ego and a lack of security.

The idea of needing to control the conversation is antiquated. We have been conditioned to believe that the person speaking is driving the conversation, but reality paints a different picture. You maintain control of the conversation by keeping your mouth shut.

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Create Opportunities to Find Black Swans

Because negotiation is a guided discovery process, you are constantly hunting for Black Swans. Black Swans are the little pieces of information that—if uncovered—will change the direction and outcome of the negotiation.

When you stay quiet and let your counterpart do the bulk of the talking, you allow them to expose those Black Swans. Although it’s perfectly normal to feel as though you’re losing control of the conversation because you’re keeping your mouth shut, you’re still framing the scope of the negotiation by using Labels™ and Mirrors™ to get your counterpart to drill down into the specifics where you see fit.  

I drive this point home with my coaching clients by showing them a simple graphic. On the left-hand side of the image is a picture of a Sopwith Camel—a biplane introduced by the British toward the end of World War I. This plane was cutting-edge and changed the way we fought wars from that point on. On the right-hand side of the image is a picture of the U.S.S. Enterprise—a fictitious but more advanced form of transportation designed to explore the entire universe. 

Here's the point I try to make: Constantly talking and attempting to control the conversation is the Sopwith Camel of negotiation. On the other hand, the U.S.S. Enterprise represents the evolution of negotiation perpetuated by The Black Swan Group. It’s designed for discovery.

There’s Always a Time to Get Assertive

All this is not to say you can’t get assertive when needed. Ultimately, you’ll need to discover something that will move the needle. This is much easier to do when you stay in a curious mindset. When you’re dominating the conversation and not letting your counterpart speak, you won’t be able to uncover anything.

Many negotiators have been conditioned to think they should walk into a room and provide all the data and logic they have. The thinking goes that once their counterpart has that information, they will see things as intended. 

The problem with this is that you’re trying to feed a steak to a lion that just ate a goat. You throw a beautiful piece of meat at the lion’s feet, and you’re perplexed by the fact that it won’t eat the steak. If you used Dynamic Silence and let the lion speak, you would figure out it just devoured an entire goat and isn’t hungry.

To revise Reagan’s quote a bit: If you’re explaining too early, you’re losing. 

At some point, you will have to explain your position to the other side. You will have to draw a line in the sand and tell them something they don’t want to hear. But that should only occur after you’ve dumped a boatload of Tactical Empathy™ on the front end of the conversation.  

Until that point arrives, embrace silence. This will make your counterpart uncomfortable because most of us don’t engage in conversations with people who allow us to speak. When you create an awkward silence, your counterpart will jump into the void and fill it with conversation. And that’s when a Black Swan or two might materialize out of thin air.

Now that you better understand the pivotal role silence plays in negotiation, it’s time to continue your learning and read about other ways to close deals. Download our free e-book, 7 Unexpected Ways to Increase Sales.

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