How Silence Can Be Golden, Not Awkward

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.

(image: peskymonkey/


Tim Berry Tim Berry is Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software, Founder of Bplans, Co-Founder of Borland International, Stanford MBA, and co-founder of Have Presence. He is the author of several books and thousands of articles on business planning, small business, social media and startup business.

13 Reactions
  1. Thanks a lot, Tim.

    The best thing I learned when I was in the car business, (many years ago!) was this;

    When you ask a question, shut up!

    The silence is a lot more uncomfortable for the person you just asked the question to. And, that’s ok.


    The Franchise King®

  2. Jamillah Warner

    Thanks Tim,

    Love that advice!
    -Ms. J-

  3. Interesting article. With social media I think it is important to make sure that what you say is what you want to say, especially when talking on behalf of your company, silence can definitely be golden.

  4. Great post.
    I learned many years ago early in my career that silence is a very effective tool. A mentor told me to hesitate and be quiet for a period of time and see what happens. People get very uncomfortable with silence and have a need to fill it with sound, it’s amazing what they’ll tell you if you just stay silent.

  5. Silence when it comes to negotiations was tought to me in the car business. You would be amazed how many people wont fight you on price if you just give them a moment of silance to think about it.

  6. Martin Lindeskog


    As an experienced purchaser, I have used this technique with great results. 🙂 It is also good to listen before you talk at business networking events.

  7. Completely agree, Tim. Sage advice. Now listening…

  8. This is sound (like the pun?) advice from both Tim and the readers’s comments.

  9. Great advice Tim, silence is a very important negotiation tool. The strength it conveys can help you win in the long run.

  10. Joel that was a very nice explanation.But sometime’s there are some people consider that as a big no no.

  11. Hi Sheen,

    Thanks for commenting.

    But who specifically would consider that a no-no?

    The Franchise King®

  12. It’s a good way to practice being a better listener. When we don’t talk, we listen.