Silence is a powerful tool when used effectively.  Too much silence can be a mistake and the old adage “he who speaks first loses” can be a painful experience for everyone. Immediately filling a moment of silence may do more harm than good.

A customer starts to describe their situation and after a short while, he pauses.  To some this seems like an opportune time to comment or share your wealth of information about your product, to sell the unique benefits and react to the customer’s comments.  To others, it’s a time to remain silent and allow the customer to continue talking – and talk they will.  It’s human nature when the room becomes quiet.

I was shopping this weekend and watched as a customer brought a few items to the cash register and when the clerk rang them in, the customer noticed an error in pricing.  She questioned the clerk and was told the items in question were not available at the price the customer that thought.  Instead of complaining or arguing though, the customer chose to remain silent.  The clerk immediately began to fill the dead air and quickly talked herself into giving the customer the discount she had hoped for.

So when should a professional sales person use a thoughtful pause?

After you ask a question – I’ve seen more salespeople answer their own questions instead of pausing and allowing the customer to talk.  What did they learn?  Not much.

Anytime you ask for the business – give people time to consider the decision and respond.  There’s no need to convince them about a decision they are in the midst of making.   I’ve seen my share of salespeople talk them selves out of business at this point.  They can’t take the silence and typically fill it with alternatives for the customer like “why don’t I give you some time and call you next week”.  Yikes!

When you are not sure what to say next – from time to time, we all find ourselves unsure of what to say after a customer’s comment.  It takes a great deal of patience and a lot of self-control, but in most cases, the other person will fill up the silence and you’ll learn something of real value.

When people express disappointment – when under pressure our natural tendency is to quickly explain why something went wrong or to immediately offer a solution.  Allowing people the opportunity to vent gives you the chance to offer the best possible solution.

In sales it is clearly in your best interest to be strategically silent rather than talking up a storm.  Only talk when it adds value to the conversation.  This is incredibly difficult for most people, but imagine what you can learn in these moments when your mouth has stopped moving.

If you sincerely and skillfully use silence to “seek first to understand, then be understood” you will build more business than you can imagine.

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