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A Subtle Pause, Improve your Negotiation Technique

Have you ever attended a session on public speaking? One of the top things public speaking coaches focus on are the filler words that you use. Words like Um, You know, So. Words that have no real meaning except to fill space while you think. Think about why you need to fill that space?  What does this have to do with a Negotiation Technique you ask?

The Impact of the Pregnant Pause On Yourself and Others

Take this a step further. Get in a conversation with someone you know and for no reason just simply stop talking and stare at them for a minute. Probably your friend will ask you what is wrong if you haven’t pre-warned them of your experience. So why is this? Culturally, most people from the US and Europe have an aversion to pauses. We subconsciously view them as a sign that someone is unhappy with us or disagrees.  When we commit a pregnant pause we fear the other person will perceive us as being unhappy with them. We naturally avoid these situations.

The Pregnant Pause, A Case Study

Other cultures do not necessarily have this particular subconscious aversion. When I got my MBA, I took a class on global business. The class focused on dealing with other cultures for negotiation and business purposes. This has come in very useful over the years for my career, but that is for another post. In this case, I’m more interested in a story the teacher told about Japan.

The Japanese culture is very tolerant of a pause. A pause in a sentence contains no significant meaning in their culture. If we venture back to the 1980s when Japan was an economic powerhouse, US companies were constantly working on mergers, joint ventures, and other business arrangements with their Japanese counterparts.   So goes the story that the Japanese businesses often times ended up with the negotiating upper hand as a result of their usage of the pause. An offer would be made by an American businessman to which the Japanese businessman would not respond immediately. The lack of response to the Japanese was simply a normal way of conversions.  Meanwhile, to the American it was viewed as a decline of an offer or other such hesitation.   The natural response was for the American business man to sweeten the deal to keep the Japanese Company on the hook for the purchase. In this way the Japanese tended to get the upper end in business deals and were viewed as shrewd negotiators.

The Pause as a Negotiation Technique

Now, former posts have touched on important negotiating techniques like having patience, identifying someone with the greatest need, and ensuring they know they have competition. To this we can add one more tool to our negotiation arsenal, the pause. Give it a try, the next time you’re negotiating and the offer is not quite what you’re looking for, pause for 20-30 seconds before responding. Chances are good if you’re in a western speaking country and the other person is willing to give you a better offer, they will do so.

One final note, the pause is also great for presentations, and executive presence. Always try to replace Uhs and Ums with a simple pause while you collect your thoughts. This will improve your public speaking presence throughout your career.

Do you have any negotiation techniques?


  1. Smart Provisions
    Smart Provisions January 30, 2017

    Pausing is a great negotiation technique! Although I haven’t quite used it to get a salary I desire yet, it’s proven to be helpful when I use it for expected work duties or projects.

    Another thing I find helpful would be speaking slowly as it can help you recollect your thoughts before you say it. It can also help others understand you easier if you are a fast speaker.

      [email protected] January 31, 2017

      Speaking slowly is definitely important when presenting to an audience. Most people tend to speed up unconsciously.

  2. Gary @ Super Saving Tips
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips January 30, 2017

    Pausing is a great strategy for negotiation, but it can be hard to go against your natural tendency to fill the silence. It’s a good idea to roleplay a negotiation with a friend and “practice your pause” before you go into an actual negotiation with it.

      [email protected] January 31, 2017

      Great suggestion. As helpful as it is in negotiations, it’s just as hard to put into practice.

  3. Mustard Seed Money
    Mustard Seed Money January 30, 2017

    I learned this B-School as well but I haven’t used it in years. You are right about it’s effectiveness and I am definitely going to have try this next time I negotiate something. Thanks for sharing!!!

      [email protected] January 31, 2017

      I’ve used it a handful of times successfully. I had a public speaking class at work (I do not turn down free classes at work) which inspired the post.

  4. Go Finance Yourself!
    Go Finance Yourself! January 31, 2017

    This is very true! We hate awkward pauses! Good advice for speaking as well. My biggest thing is still making sure I slow down when I’m presenting. In my head it feels like I’m going one mile an hour, but in reality it’s a normal pace. This helps cut out the ums as well when you’re not constantly stumbling over yourself.

      [email protected] January 31, 2017

      So true, the faster we talk the harder it is for others to comprehend. If they do not understand you your negotiation will also fail.

  5. Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions
    [email protected] January 31, 2017

    Such an interesting post! I never thought of it, but putting in that pause is so important! As a teacher and administrator, the use of a pause in presenting or teaching is also incredibly important. People need time to process and the pause allows for that. If everyone could slow down and put some pauses into discussions – there might be a lot less misunderstanding too.

      [email protected] February 1, 2017

      So very true. People need time to digest what you say and respond. A pause also gives them that opportunity if your teaching. Thanks for the great add.

  6. I will have to try the pause. I’ve definitely noticed this in conversations now that you mention it and it certainly works…

    It also works when talking to a girl. The slower you talk, the more confident you appear.

    Thanks for the post. Looking forward to more insightful content from you.

  7. Leo T. Ly @
    Leo T. Ly @ February 8, 2017

    Great tips FTF, I am a realtor and I do quite a bit of negotiation. If by pausing just a bit and I have a chance to get a better deal, that could mean thousands of dollars in savings for my clients. Gotta give this method a shot.

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