The Negotiator’s Pause. — An Underappreciated Tool in Your Sales Toolkit.
Becoming a Better Sales Rep — Post #35
I focused on negotiation in my grad studies. Holding an undergrad degree in business and chemistry, I’ve been nurtured to rely on hard facts and think scientifically. So, when I started my graduate studies in the social sciences, it came as a huge surprise to me how valuable soft skills are. And, that you can learn, execute, and master them.
But it was only when I became a negotiation coach at Harvard and saw others practice certain communication concepts deliberately that I understood the huge value of soft skills.
And, my favorite one by far is the Negotiator’s Pause. A concept that is so simple but so powerful. And, completely underestimated.
What Is the Negotiator’s Pause?
Well, now I’m sitting here, wanting to explain a simple concept while trying to figure out how to fill an entire paragraph.
The Negotiator’s Pause is as simple as it sounds: It’s a deliberate break one or more parties request during a negotiation. If multiple people are involved, it requires the main conversation to halt for the duration of the pause.
Well, you might be wondering why this is such a mind-blowing concept. And, I get it. It seems so obvious, heck, even boring. How can this be game-changing?
Well, the power lies less in the concept itself. It lies much more in the fact that almost nobody uses this tool, which brings us back to one of my favorite quotes from my persuasion professor, Gary Orren: “The principles of persuasion are common knowledge, but not common practice.”
Why Is the Negotiator’s Pause So Effective?
Still, the Negotiator’s Pause is extremely effective for five reasons:
- It Gives You Time to Consider New Information and Restrategize: Negotiations are quick and you get new information all the time. They never go to plan or as imagined. That’s just the nature of them. And, if you jump from one topic to the next, you simply don’t have the time to take in everything and restrategize. When in communications mode, it’s also harder to think analytically.
- It Helps You Calm Down From Situational Emotions: We’re all just human beings and things get heated when we negotiate. It’s super hard to calm down and reset yourself while in the moment. Taking a quick pause can do the trick. It’s also helpful to suggest a pause if you feel that the situation is getting tense for the other party. But, don’t ever point it out, of course. Find another reason for the pause.
- It Helps You Refocus the Conversation: Changing the subject matter is so much easier after a quick pause. Go drink a coffee and make sure to address the topic you really wanna talk about first thing when back at the table.
- It Helps You Get Unstuck: Do you know these loops where people tell each other the same thing 3 times and give the same arguments over and over again? Well, this means you’re stuck. And everybody wanting to bring their points across while not listening to each other makes it hard to get the conversation into any meaningful direction. But, just realizing this, addressing it — and taking a few minutes off — might bring you back on track.
- It Helps You to Refresh: We only have so much cognitive capacity and energy. Sometimes, we need to admit that we’re just human and need breaks. Fresh air, a glass of water, and going for a walk might recharge us. What sounds better: dragging the conversation on for hours just to get an unfavorable deal while being deprived of energy OR taking a 10-minute break and continuing with full energy?
But Why Don’t People Take Negotiator’s Pauses?
Well, the reasons are manifold but all of them — in my opinion — are kinda silly because the benefits outweigh all of the risks. And, in all honesty, most of these risks are just in your head.
- They Simply Forget: When you’re in a sales conversation or negotiation, you’re on fire. You need to bring up your best game and simply by doing this, you might forget to take a pause when necessary. Time flies, you’re involved in the moment and all of a sudden you got an unfavorable deal.
- They’re Overwhelmed With the Situation: If negotiations were easy or predictable, we wouldn’t be negotiating. The thing with negotiations is that they continuously reveal new information and force us to re-strategize in the moment. At one point, we were considering one topic of the deal, and just minutes later we’re talking about something else. Then we get some new information and need to revisit the first point. It gets messy and it always leads to cognitive overload. And in all of this, we tend to forget to take a pause.
- They’re Worried That It’s Considered Rude or Weak: It’s interesting to see that people think it’s rude to take some time to consider the information they’ve just been given. Or, that it might make them appear indecisive. The opposite is the case. If you don’t take a negotiator’s pause, you’ll deprive yourself of the opportunity to really understand and address the other party’s needs.
When Should You Take A Negotiator’s Pause?
There are many reasons. And, in the end, it’s just about your gut feeling. But moments, when you should definitely take a break, are:
- When things get heated.
- When you feel tired.
- When you’re losing focus.
- When something else of importance comes up and distracts you from the negotiation.
- When you’re stuck.
- When you get overwhelmed.
- When you received new information.
- When you need to include someone else's perspective.
- When you need additional information to make a decision.
- Before you agree to a deal too quickly.
How Should You Go About Taking a Negotiator’s Pause?
So, with all this knowledge, there’s one last question: what do you do if you wanna take a negotiator’s pause?
- Kindly Ask For It. Don’t Just Take It: Always be polite about it. Suggest that you’d like to take a pause. However, the ask is more out of courtesy than anything else. They need to grant it to you unless there are external factors that require a timely decision.
- Give a Reason For the Pause: Make sure that people get the feeling that the pause will benefit the conversation and both of you. Nobody would appreciate sitting there for 15 minutes thinking that you’re crafting a master plan to take advantage of them. Say something like: “I’d really like to consider the information you gave me to find a fair deal for both of us.” or “I really need to dive into the numbers again to see if I can agree to this proposal.”
- Don’t Take Too Many Pauses/Don’t Do It Too Often: You shouldn’t ask for a pause if you just had a break five minutes ago. And, you also don’t want to be taking 3 pauses when you’re only negotiating for 30 minutes or talking about something of minor importance. So, it’s important to be strategic about your pauses.
- Agree On Sufficient Time: It’s all about balance. Too much would be rude. Too little won’t give you enough time. I always like 15 minutes as a benchmark. I know it feels a lot, but in the first five minutes, you usually calm down, you reset your brain from a communications mode to an analytical one. Then you’ve got some seven minutes to actually do what you want to do before you’ll need three minutes to take a breather and get back into it.
- Suggest What the Other Person Could Do During the Pause: If you’re an advanced negotiator and feel comfortable, help the other person use their time effectively for your and their advantage. If they don’t feel like they need a pause, the pause might feel awkward to them. So, help them to feel like they could make good use of the time, too. Never tell them what to do, tho; suggest it!
- Make Serious Use of the Time: Do this for two reasons. One, obviously, it’s super valuable. Two, if you don’t use the time to do what you said before, you’ll lose credibility. You don’t ever want to be wasting anyone’s time.
- Be The First One to Speak After the Pause: Pauses always reset conversations. So, if you’re not the first one to speak after the pause, chances are that your counterpart will take lead and maybe even drive the conversation onto a different topic.
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It doesn’t quite help you negotiate, yet. But, it surely will down the road. (; We’ve already started working on persuasive machine-learning models.
Make sure to give it a try, if you haven’t already!
Access Resonaid via the Chrome Web Store.
Resonaid is a tool that helps sales professionals with writing personalized messages for their sales outreach.
We recently released the first version of our product as a Chrome extension in the Chrome Web Store.
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About the Author.
Teddy Lange is a co-founder at Resonaid and is responsible for business development and customer experience. Before joining Resonaid, he’s been a Sales Rep and Junior Sales Manager, and co-founded various companies. He’s currently finishing his graduate degree in Public Policy with a focus on communication at Harvard University. Feel free to reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.