Have you ever been in a Chinese negotiation where suddenly everybody goes silent? It is not uncommon and it does not happen by chance.
One of my interviewees, an expat who had gone through a substantial amount of negotiation while setting up a manufacturing plant, observed on the topic of Chinese negotiations:
“Silence plays a very important role in negotiation. Our Chinese business contacts know we tend to feel very uncomfortable with silence. We become uneasy. Hence they use silence during negotiations to strengthen their position”
This conversation came back to my mind recently while I was reading a newspaper article about recruitment tips “Listening skills a winner for job hunters” (Waikato Times, Saturday January 14, 2012) based on insights by Jeffrey Kurdisch in the Washington Post.
One of the tips in the article reflects that very same comment. I reproduce it here because it is as valid for job hunting as it is for negotiation and life in general:
“Be comfortable with silence
Several recruiters have told me they use silence as a tactic to see how job-seekers respond. Negotiations research suggests that people who are uncomfortable with silence tend to share information that may put them at a competitive disadvantage. Savvy job seekers accept silence during a conversation and are careful not to talk about things that will reduce their employability. They also use silence moments as an opportunity to check on their own non-verbal communication (sit up straight, project self-confidence, no distracting mannerisms). If you feel the need to break the silence, try asking questions.”
Silence is also used in a range of situations in which you need the other part to open up and share information. One of my relatives, who was a marriage counsellor till retirement, says “we often used silence during a counselling session to allow people the time and the opportunity to share things that they needed to bring out”.
So, silence is widely used to bring information out. And, in a business negotiation, information is power. So be aware of your reactions to silence and follow in your own negotiations the advice Mr Kurdisch was giving to job hunters- that we could translate here into negotiation tips:
Tip#1. Be comfortable with silence
Tip#2. Do not feel pressured by silence into talking about things that will put you at a competitive disadvantage
Tip#3. Use silent time to review your negotiation strategy/tactics
-Tip#4. Break the silence with questions, if you feel the need to talk (this way you will not give away information)
By the way, my interviewee was very relaxed about silence. His tip was aligned with the ones specialists suggest: “Just take silence as a brief break in your negotiation. Take that time for reflection and thinking about how the negotiation is going and how to take it forward”
What do you think? Have you ever faced a silent room in your Chinese negotiations?
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