Strong handshake? Check.
Make eye contact? Check.
Copies of your resume? Check.
You’ve already started off your interview on the right foot. Here’s how to keep the upper hand throughout the conversation. What’s the secret? Learning how to make uncomfortable silence work in your favor.
If the conversation hits a lull or you get stuck, resist the urge to fill silence with meaningless chatter. Your need to combat silence by saying something — anything — could derail the conversation.
Embracing silences is not a tactic English speakers usually employ because it makes us uncomfortable or nervous. Typically we leave just a fraction of a second when we talk, BBC Capital reports. BBC looked at several studies where researchers examined people’s level of comfort in these situations. One study found that Dutch and English speakers felt uncomfortable past four seconds of silence. Another found that Japanese speakers were much more at ease with prolonged silences; they could handle up to eight seconds of silence in conversation.
Cultural norms aside, embracing a few seconds of silence can be wildly effective. It projects confidence, and it can put the onus on the other person to speak first.
Thrown off by a really weird question and not sure how to answer? Pause. Think. Gather your thoughts. Then answer.
Break in conversation? Pause. You need not immediately begin talking to combat the awkwardness. Let your interviewer feel the pressure to fill the silence.
Whether it’s for a job interview, salary negotiation or closing a deal, the subtle act of letting silence prevail is the ultimate power move. It just might make you a little uncomfortable at first, but revel in that discomfort and use it to your advantage.
“The fact that English speakers are generally so awkward around silence is partly why it can be such a powerful tool,” BBC Capital writes.
Here’s an example. Gavin Presman leads Inspire, a UK-based sales and leadership training company. After a recent pitch for business, a potential client told Presman he wasn’t sure he could afford his price. Presman said he understood. Did he then lower his price or offer a discount?
No. He said nothing.
It took 10 seconds for the client to respond. Which may seem like just a blip, but during a business conversation feels like the eternity. Ultimately, the client decided to move forward and hire Presman for the training. Those 10 seconds made all the difference.
“We often think that silence is people simply not speaking,” Presman told BCC Capital. “But it allows both people to settle down and reflect a bit deeper.”
Like all skills, mastering this one takes practice. Silence makes us feel weird. We have to get used to that weirdness because we can bust out this in an important negotiation or conversation.
Katie Donovan, a salary and career negotiation consultant, recommends you try out the tactic first in a low-stakes conversation with people you already know well. After refining the shut-up-and-wait method with friends, you’ll be more prepared and confident to execute it during a negotiation or job interview.