Guy Kawasaki’s latest blog post, 8 more ways to improve presentations, includes a very interesting eighth and last point that reminded me this morning of something I was taught, as an American doing business in Japan, about using silence as an integral part of a conversation.
That eighth point is "don’t overwhelm the audience. Be entertaining but use moments of silence, soft speech, and slow cadence."
Guy’s talking about presentations, specifically, and the point is very important in that context.
I think, however, you can take it further. Silence is one of the most powerful tools in conversation, and, perhaps more to the business point, negotiation.
My story on this goes back to the early 1990s. I was going to do business planning seminars for Apple in Japan and the Apple managers involved had the sense to get me some special tutoring from Dianne Saphiere, an expert in crossing cultures between the U.S. and Japan.
Dianne said that the Japanese culture appreciates and respects silence as part of a conversation. Westerners, on the other hand, hate and fear silence. We call it awkward. It drives us crazy.
Silence can be as simple as a matter of respect. The person who understands and uses silence might be indicating that you’ve made an important point, so he or she respects that by waiting to respond. You, however, have to avoid fearing silence and forcing a response. Wait for the silence.
Dianne said that sometimes a Japanese person will win concessions from an American simply by not fearing silence. For example, the American breaks what seems like an awkward pause by lowering the price, thinking that the silence is disapproval. The Japanese person, however, was simply respecting the importance of the offer.
Since then I’ve often seen how silence can work as a tool. As you talk with somebody, and particularly in negotiations, use this to your favor. Take your time. As Guy’s point suggests, "use moments of silence, soft speech, and slow cadence."