Years ago I was contracted by Apple Computer to do a series of seminars in Japan, and they paid an expert (Dianne Saphiere, if you’re out there, take a bow) to help me with some cross-cultural fine tuning.
Dianne taught me the business power of silence.
In Japan, she said, a long pause during a negotiation was traditionally can a sign of respect. It was a way to show that the matter is important and the proposal just made is worthy of thought.
To Americans, on the other hand, a long pause during a negotiation is an awkward silence. The longer the silence, the more uncomfortable it becomes.
Imagine a conference room in Tokyo. A team of Americans are negotiating a deal with a team of Japanese. “We can do that for $100,000,” the Americans say. The Japanese say nothing. They wait in silence for two minutes.
“How about $90,000?” The Americans broke the silence by lowering the price. The Japanese were going to say yes to $100,000.
That’s just one example of the power of silence. It’s not just about Americans and Japanese. Waiting before responding is generally a good idea in lots of contexts. Call that thinking first. And, I’m sorry to admit, I’ve also learned (the hard way) the dangers of responding without thinking. And in a negotiation context, especially, silence can be golden, not awkward.