The Value of Silence

4 Mar 2020

This month my business book club (yes – I am that sad person who belongs to a business book club – and a normal one too) has been reading "Never Split the Difference" by Chris Voss, who for many years, was the lead kidnap negotiator for the FBI.

I hope I never need to negotiate with a kidnapper, and I'm guessing neither do you, but we negotiate small things every day of our life. We negotiate at work; we negotiate socially, and we negotiate most of all with our family.

What Chris Voss says, is that while his technique works for business deals, it also works when negotiating a bedtime with your nine-year-old daughter. And I'm guessing I know which one is the harder sell. I know I negotiate with my husband and children every day.

So, what does all this have to do with silence? I'm coming to that – hold on.

Voss splits us all into three types of negotiators, the assertive, the accommodators and the analysts – and it is vital to know which type you are dealing with.

Assertive negotiators want to get to the deal. They don't need it to be perfect, they need it to be done. Their over-riding need is to be heard and so, if the other side goes quiet, they will talk more – and then some more. They can ride rough-shod over the other person and reach a deal which is just not workable. The other person has said yes, just to shut them up, but has no intention of following through.

Accommodators want a peaceful solution where everyone is happy – and they will sometimes subjugate their own needs to achieve that outcome. They don't deal well with silence as they feel threatened; interpreting silence as anger or criticism. This means they will sometimes just walk away from the table and so nothing is agreed at all. Their own silence means they're unhappy.

Analysts need all the information before they will decide and need to think things through carefully. This means they are comfortable with silence. Silence just means time to think. If the other side is an assertive negotiator, talking and still talking, the analyst becomes annoyed, thus souring the deal. If the other side is an accommodator, the analyst will look up after thinking it through, and find the other person has left the room. They will then conclude that the other person doesn't really care and has wasted their time.

I realise now that I am an accommodator, married to an analyst. There have been many times when I have retreated because he has "gone quiet", and so many important conversations have not been completed or even started.

These incompletions are an ongoing cause of upset – the niggles that all build up to unhappiness.

Next time we talk, I will try to remember that silence has a different value for us all and include that in my approach to the conversation.

What does silence mean for you?


A Moodscope member.

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