The Art of Silence

I found a quote on “silence” several years ago that made me stop and look back over several thousand sales calls and sales management experiences. The quote reads like this-“Don’t wait for silence before speaking; rather, wait for silence to end.”

This is a powerful statement with enormous implications. Think of all the salespeople who made cold calls to you or came into your home or office to make a sales call. How many of those salespeople used silence effectively? My guess is that there were not too many. Why?

1. Because silence makes people uncomfortable.

2. Salespeople think that the talker has control of the sales call.

3. People in general like to talk in order to show others how smart they are.

4. Sadly, no one ever taught us how to use silence effectively.

Here are two other tidbits of information to make you stop and think. People process information at about the same rate that they speak. An individual who speaks fast processes information quickly; the person who speaks more slowly will process information less quickly. So, if you’re talking to a prospect who has a measured pace to their speech how must they feel when a salesperson is rattling off information, giving them little time to sort through the data? Talk about a turn off!

A study was done showing that once a person stops talking, the listener will take at least 3-4 seconds to respond. Now 3-4 seconds is not a long time but it is to someone who can’t stand silence. (By the way, I don’t know exactly where this study was done.) Regardless of whether it’s 3-4 seconds or 30 seconds silence is invaluable because it allows the listener time to compose their thoughts and then respond to the talker.

Here’s an anecdote to make the point. Years ago I was on a sales call with a sales rep. The rep made a statement about the product and then waited for the prospect to respond. I just happened to look at a clock in the prospect’s office that had a second hand. The silence lasted 45 seconds. Guess who finally filled the void by speaking? The prospect! He responded to what this sales lady had to say because he sorted through her information and processed it relative to his needs. End of story-sale closed.

Waiting for silence to end before speaking takes patience and discipline. This works not only in sales but in sales management situations as well. If you’re a sales manager doing a post sales call review it makes sense to ask the salesperson a few questions about their reaction to the sales call and then listen to what they say. This makes a lot more sense than shooting your mouth off with suggestions first and then listening for feedback from the sales rep. At that point the rep may not be comfortable giving their opinion if it differs from what you, as the manager, said. This seems like such a small thing but I believe that silence actually builds stronger relationships than constant chatter while, at the same time showing respect and maturity for the listener.

The Final Thought: Talking comes by nature, silence by wisdom. (Unknown)

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