Learning to Love Uncomfortable Silences

by Britton Manasco | Aug 27, 2011 | Inside Sales

Mia: Don't you hate that?
Vincent: Hate what?
Mia: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it's necessary to yak about bull****? In order to be comfortable?
Vincent: I don't know. That's a good question.

Not that I'd recommend Pulp Fiction to everyone.

But this exchange between Uma Thurman and John Travolta came to mind recently when I was reflecting on the outcome of a sales call. Uncomfortable silences  

It occured to me, in a post-call review with one of my colleagues, that the conversation might have been better if my own temptation to fill silences had been resisted. 

Yes, it can be a little awkward to let silence own the moment. But you should get used to it. I know I am.

We tend to think -- and it may be a cultural issue -- that silence is an indication that something has gone awry. We feel pressure to say something -- anything, perhaps -- to end it.

But we should savor it instead.

Silence may indicate that an idea is being contemplated and considered. It's a sign that your prospect is working through questions or suggestions that have been introduced into the conversation.

Don't interrupt -- or interfere with this process. You'll only be exhibiting a lack of self confidence. 

And here's a data point to consider. In recent research on top sales people, author and consultant Steve W. Martin found that a lack of gregariousness was a common trait.

As he puts it:

Overall, top performers averaged 30 percent lower gregariousness than below average performers...The results indicate that overly friendly salespeople are too close to their customers and have difficulty establishing dominance. 

That last word -- dominance -- might trip you up. It sounds rather aggressive, doesn't it? What he means is that sales people need to establish a position as a trusted authority. They require their customers to respect and follow their recommendations if they are to meet their sales goals. 

But they can't achieve this objective if they are submissive, overly friendly -- or unwilling to savor the silence.

They must project self-confidence in order to earn the confidence of their prospects.