The Persuasive Power of Silence

By Gerhard Gschwandtner

The most dreaded prospect to call on is the one who doesn’t talk.

You can easily see the type – pursed lips, eyes averted, leaning back in the chair. You hear an occasional grunt, but not enough to carry on a dialogue. You don’t know what the problem is and the situation becomes embarrassing. The silent customer has a key advantage: he assumes a passive, manipulative position and leaves you hanging with the feelings of self-doubt. You begin to wonder what you did wrong. If your customer fits this description, stop wondering. You’re dealing with a silent form of a very human emotion – anger.

Anger in customers is always perplexing and we have to work hard at keeping our cool while taking effective steps to help the customer to express anger appropriately so we can go on with the business of selling.

To break the silence, you could try some of these questions: “I can’t help noticing that I have been doing most of the talking and at this point, I’d like to ask you, what seems to hold you back from expressing your objective opinion?” or “Obviously you must have a reason for saving your feelings about what we’ve been discussing. Would you mind if I ask what it is?” If you ask these types of questions, be prepared to accept open anger in return and allow the customer to express it without criticizing his or her behavior. Show that you care. Show that you understand his or her feelings. You could say, “I understand your reaction and appreciate your openness. You see, this gives me a chance to work harder to make our relationship work.”

Be prepared to listen and resolve the conflict. Take the risk of dealing with anger directly. It’s well worth the extra efforts. After the customer’s anger subsides, you’ll have a golden opportunity to either walk away with an order or at least with a tremendous sense of accomplishment for you’ve been able to improve and strengthen the relationship.