Q: I’ve never been comfortable with silence, and when I’m negotiating, I know I shouldn’t but I rush to fill the void during any pauses by my opposing counsel. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can break this habit?
A: Being aware of the challenge is the first step. Then, if you try counting to yourself during these pauses, your discomfort with the silence may lift because while counting, the left (logical) part of your brain takes over.
You could also practice tolerating silence in another context, as when asking a tough question of a junior colleague you are supervising; encourage him or her to take their time thinking before answering…and notice that, to assist their growth, you don’t feel the need to jump in (and can curb any instinct to do so).
Then, try to turn the tables in your next negotiation. Reframe the other lawyer’s silence as an opportunity for you to assist your client, rather than a vacuum to fill. When your opponent does continue to talk– providing information, perhaps showing his/her hand, or making concessions–you will actually have used silence to your advantage.