Most people have experienced the gut-twisting awkwardness of long, silent pauses in conversations. Even a pause of just a couple of seconds can seem agonizingly long. But skilled interviewers, negotiators, and others have learned to turn that uncomfortableness into an advantage.
In this post, we’ll discuss the power of the pause and some of the basic psychology behind it.
Gaining Comfort with Silence
As noted above, most people feel uncomfortable with silence, particularly after a discussion had already taken place. Our natural tendency as humans is to want to fill that silence to end the awkwardness.
In two-sided discussions, this can benefit those who know how to use it to their advantage. In order for the pause to end, one person has to start talking. If an interviewer or one party in a negotiation doesn’t start talking, that means the other person is likely feeling the urge to open up.
“Try counting to three—or five if you can stand it—after your subject answers a tough or thoughtful question. This method can seem agonizing at first, but used with empathy it works wonders to develop a deeper rapport between two people,” says Courtney Seiter in an article for Fast Company. “Since our natural tendency is to fill in a silence, the pause can also work as a power play in a tougher scenario – say, a salary negotiation.”
Silence Brings Magical Discoveries
The strategy is surprisingly simple yet extremely effective. Seiter notes how it’s been used for years by skilled journalists like Jim Lehrer, who she quotes in her article:
“If you resist the temptation to respond too quickly to the answer, you’ll discover something almost magical. The other person will either expand on what he’s already said or he’ll go in a different direction. Either way, he’s expanding his response, and you get a clear view into his head and heart.”
Dead air in a conversation is uncomfortable, but it is far less awkward for those creating the pause as a discussion or negotiation strategy. Understanding the power of the pause is a simple way to boost interviewing and negotiation skills.