One of the key tactics used by people who deal with the public is not what gets said, but the silences that a savvy person will insert into a dialogue. Whether it be in public speaking, in sales, in negotiations, or in multi-media marketing, the insertion of silence into a presentation creates tension – and an opportunity for the party who went silent. “Silence is golden” is an aphorism with some major merit to it.
The conscious use of silence as a tool and/or weapon in relationships with the environment and other humans has probably been around since before the first human walked erect. The hunter used it as part of his arsenal to track down prey – and to hide from predators. Interpersonal relationships were formed, or broken, by silence. It may seem oxymoronic, but the power of silence is harnessed in relationships, business and politics as one of the various tools to achieve communication.
Silence has power. Most people in a conversation grow uncomfortable in silence, wondering how to fill the gap – “nature hates a vacuum” and so do people, when engaged in a dialog and the conversation obviously halted and a response is expected from them.
Street smart salesmen or women know to ask questions – then stop speaking. It puts tension on the other side to respond. Even if there is only one reasonable response, it forces the potential buyer to state it out loud. For a salesperson, the power of 7 comes into play, because psychological studies show that by getting the other side to say “yes” seven times in a row, you have started removing their automatic response of “no” about doing business with you.
In a negotiation, silence is a critical element. One side presents a position – then either literally or figuratively walks away from the table, awaiting a response. There is no further discussion possible until there is a response. The presenter is making a gamble, that by walking away with an offer on the table that the other party must either accept, modify, or decline the offer – or choose to remain silent.
Silence us often used as a gambit in a negotiation, depending on the perceptions of each party on how much there is to gain or lose for their side, and how much the other side wants the transaction to occur. When that judgment isn’t accurate on either side of the negotiating table, the negotiation breaks down, and the last offer will be just that – the last offer, and the negotiation and potential resolution of the transaction, to the mutual dissatisfaction of both sides, will have vanished.
In public speaking, silence is used to emphasize a point, to let what was just said to “sink in” with the audience. Great orators of the past and present all had the ability to know when to pause – and wait until a light of recognition was shining in the eyes of their listeners.
In broadcast multi-media, silence has been used for close to 80 years to emphasize a point and to create tension. Ever since the advent of the widespread use of radio and “talking movies,” the “dramatic pause” has existed, borrowed from the tradition of live theater. A silence creates dramatic effect, and puts the audience in a state of heightened awareness, waiting for the next part of the dialog to occur.