The best salespeople listen more than they talk

As Sarah wound her way past the tables and toward the stage to collect the "Top Salesperson Award," her colleagues mumbled about a first-year rookie could have sold more than anyone else. Sarah was pleasant enough, but hardly the gregarious salesman-type. When asked how she did it, Sarah wasn't talking. What her colleagues didn't know was that Sarah's quiet nature was key to her success. Sarah was making sales by practicing the art of silence, not the art of talking.

Silence is the secret tool of power negotiators. They know when to listen, not talk. They use facial expressions, not their voices, to make a point. Here are five tips on how the art of silence can make you a better negotiator:

Listen more. One can control the negotiation process by simply listening well. When we listen well, we gain the trust and confidence of others. When people are encouraged to talk, they tell us their needs, their wants, their dreams and their plan of action; in short, they give us information. When we truly listen to people, we make them feel important, particularly if we are making good eye contact while listening. The problem is that most of us don't truly listen when others talk. We just can't remain silent long enough to really hear them. Chances are we are just marking time until we can jump in and start talking. We should be aware that every time we do talk, we open ourselves to being vulnerable.

The 10-second strategy. Silence makes most of us uncomfortable. In today's world, there is noise all around us, from cell phones ringing, to the iPod in our ears, to chats around the water cooler. We are conditioned to noise, not to silence. Try this test: the next time you are negotiating with the other party, and he says something like, "Well, that's my offer," don't utter a word for 10 seconds. It's practically guaranteed he will jump in with another offer or more information, anything to break the silence. When you get comfortable with 10 seconds, bump it up to 20 seconds.

Ask questions. A good way to learn silence is to ask questions, another secret weapon of successful negotiators. The person asking the questions controls the conversation. While you can get information from the person answering the question, generally, if you have done your homework, you should already know the answer before you ask. Lawyers are taught to never ask a question without already knowing the answer; that's good advice. What you are really doing here is getting the other person to talk, perhaps to verify your information, but really to feel more comfortable working with you, and therefore, to trust you.

Let's turn that around. Realize that when someone asks you a question, there is no law that says you have to answer. Try remaining silent; the questioner will likely start talking again. A good negotiator who really does not want to answer a question might, after a while, say something like, "Before I answer that, tell me why you ask." Throw it back. Remember, you don't have to answer questions asked of you.

Pause more between sentences. In a recent study, scientists showed that just a one- to two-second break between movements in classical music triggers a flurry of mental activity in listeners. So, could a one- to two-second pause between sentences be just as powerful in helping others comprehend our information? Any comedian will tell you that it is timing that determines success. Those of us who are fast talkers have to learn to be more deliberate and practice this art of pausing for more emphasis.

The flinch, the shrug, the smile. These actions are all guaranteed to carry a powerful message, even as you remain totally silent. The flinch is the quick, jerky movement of the shoulders with a pained look on your face. It sends an immediate message that you did not like what you heard. Once you flinch, then what? Why, remain silent, of course. Wait for the other party to speak, and she quickly will, chances are, while scrambling to sweeten the deal. The shrug of the shoulders sends the message that you just don't care; you're not interested. Again, remain silent. And the smile - a silent smile is powerfully enigmatic (ask Mona Lisa) - and the other party is left to guess what you are thinking. And, yes, again, don't be the first person to speak.

Power negotiators, whether sellers or buyers, know that what you don't say is sometimes more powerful than what you do say. Use these tips the next time you negotiate and enjoy the power that silence brings.

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