HOW TO USE SILENCE IN MEDIATION: –
By Adv. George Merlo Pallath
Mediation Trainer, Kerala
Imagine the husband and wife bickering. Both will be shouting at the top of their voices and both will be misunderstood, misinterpreted and there will be total breakdown of communication. Despite their raised voices, there is zero communication. Compare this with two lovers sitting on the beach watching the sunset. There is silence. No words being spoken, but they are in total communion with each other. Imagine a Buddhist ascetic meditating. Total silence. Yet there is absolute communication.
In an hospital room, the aged husband and wife is lying on adjacent beds. Both are critically ill. Their hands are clasped. No words being spoken. But everything is understood.
You are at a flea market and see an item you like and asked the vendor for his best price. He says, “200.” Do you think you will get a better response by looking at him disappointedly in silence and starting to turn away or by saying, “Can’t you do better than that?” we can all agree that the former works better.
In mediation, the disputants come to us for a resolution of their dispute, to make themselves heard, to open their minds and empty their hearts of all their sorrows, anger, frustration, and helplessness. Many a times, just a patient listening will suffice to mitigate their emotions and drain out their negativities. Sometimes they will get angry, violent, aggressive. One of the best weapons in our armoury to counter these negative emotions or to neutralize them is “SILENCE’. People abhor silence the way nature abhors a vacuum and rush to fill it with the same alacrity. Silence feeds our imaginations and provokes all types of anxious conjurations. If we are clever about it, however, we can leverage these negative reactions to create positive value. Silence is also a form of communication.
In mediation, when some disputants lose their control and shout at the mediator, the mediator can just stay silent and calmly continue to look at the disputant in the eye. The mediator’s silence will calm down the disputant, bring down the temperature, and give them time to reflect and think rationally.
You are most powerful when you are silent. People never expect silence. They expect words, motion, defence, offense, back and forth. They expect to leap into the fray. They are ready, fists up, words hanging leaping from their mouths. Silence? No. ~Alison McGhee
“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation”. ~Marcus Tullius Cicero
Silence, is one of the most powerful weapons an individual can bring to the table. But where does the power of silence lie?
Silence implies confidence: There is a reason that the descriptors “strong” and “silent” are often paired together. It takes a confident person to calmly sit in silence in the face of a tough negotiation. Even if you do not feel particularly confident, strategically choosing to employ silence in your negotiations can help get there.
Silence shows that you are listening: In negotiation, information is power. It is how we learn more about the other side’s interests, identify new ways of creating value, and work towards win-win solutions. If we spend most of the time talking, rather than opening space for the other person to speak, we miss out of key information that will make us more effective negotiators and help us create better deals. Silence gives the other person space to speak, and it displays your willingness to listen and learn more. “Silent” and “Listen” are comprised of the same letters. Coincidence? Probably not.
Silence expects a response: Sometimes, your negotiation counterpart is quiet or reserved with their communication. Perhaps they are utilizing positional negotiation tactics, hoping to draw you into a framework of bargaining and haggling. In this case, you need to convince the other side to negotiate in an interest-based way focused on mutual gains. While you can clearly state your goal to work together to create more value in the negotiation, you can also utilize silence elicit more open communication. Just as you might be uncomfortable with silence, it is likely that your negotiation counterpart is as well. After a thoughtful question, allowing silence increases the likelihood that the other side will respond with more information and clarity.
When used genuinely and sparingly, you can utilize silence in a way that exemplifies your confidence and empowers your negotiation counterpart to collaborate with you, without creating too much pressure or making the other person uncomfortable or defensive.
Encourage them to speak with inquiry: Start by asking your negotiation counterpart an open-ended question, then sit back and be ready to listen. When the other person is finished speaking, allow a few more seconds of silence. This shows that you respect their space and want to hear from them, and they may continue speaking after a pause.
Practice active listening: You may be silent, but that does not mean you are not engaged. Show that you are still part of the conversation and eager to hear more by opening your body language and making eye contact. If the silence continues, sit back in your chair, and shift your eye contact to remove some pressure from the other side. Once they are done speaking, try to recap what you heard, focusing on naming any of their interests you identified.
After you speak, be silent: After you make a statement or request to your negotiation counterpart, avoid the instinct to tack on follow-up questions and explanations. Instead, utilize silence. This gives the other person space to be thoughtful about their response to what you said, and it allows your statement to sink in and clarify. It also allows the other person to respond openly to what they found most important in you statement, rather than to a narrow follow-up question.
Avoid the desire to fill gaps: Sometimes, conversations come to a natural lag. Rather than viewing this as a negative, use that time to be thoughtful about why there is silence. Are you feeling stuck for a specific reason? Take time to assess your counterpart’s body language and tone – do they seem uncomfortable, angry, or upset? Are they possibly analysing an option that was put on the table, digesting a large amount of information or a statement that was difficult to hear, or planning how to move forward in a resource-strapped situation? Rather than mindlessly filling blank spaces in the conversation, utilize that time to diagnose what is happening and plan the next best step. In conclusion, Use silence as a furnace of transformation to bring down tempers, to calm people, to make people introspect, to reconsider, to think, to give time to the disputants to realize ground realities. Silence demonstrates that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. Silence brings about a transformation in the mind of the disputants. So long as it is used sparingly and with perfect timing, it is a potent weapon to bring clarity to the fuddled minds of the disputants.