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Make every second of silence count

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Everyone knows that it’s easier to sell yourself and your ideas if you’re able to listen well. And the best way to listen is to keep quiet.

Penny Herscher, former CEO of Simplex Solutions, shares the best advice she ever received about selling: Ask a question, shut up and the first one who speaks loses.

That’s tough to apply, because it’s often uncomfortable to remain quiet in a one-on-one conversation. It’s tempting to fill pockets of silence rather than wait patiently for someone else to chime in. We do this with friends, strangers, spouses and co-workers.

But like many savvy leaders, Herscher has found that when you zip your lips, you learn more. Given more time to think about what they want to say, others will eventually reveal more of themselves.

From her 20 years of experience as a CEO for high-tech companies, Herscher has found that many salespeople talk themselves into failure. They lose sales by over-explaining or lecturing would-be buyers instead of letting them voice their needs and concerns.

Mastering the art of questioning helps. After you ask a question, wait in silence for a response. If a few seconds go by, remain quiet.

“Don’t jump in to fill the silence,” Herscher warns.

Your silence signals your respect for the other person—and your eagerness to listen and learn. If you answer your own question or interrupt just as someone starts to speak, you show that you’re really more interested in talking than gathering information.

— Adapted from “Selling with Silence,” Penny Herscher,

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