Audio version 9 mins or listen on Spotify:
“Which One Of You Bitches Is My Mother?”
A lovely reader was kind enough to write a review calling my book the ‘most cracking read since Shirley Conran banged out Lace in the 80s.’
I was not aware of Lace, so I searched it and could not have been happier with the comparison.
Described by The Guardian as “a feminist bonkbuster”, it’s about a group of women, lifelong friends, who gather in Manhattan’s most exclusive hotel. They meet up with a ‘hot young Hollywood actress”, played in the Lace TV mini-series by Phoebe Cates.
I cut its trademark line of dialogue into this short book video:
TV Guide magazine once declared it the best line in television history.
What struck me was Phoebe Cates’ delivery. Obviously it’s a great line. But I think one of the main reasons it got into the public hall of fame was that majestic eight seconds of silence between the decoy “Incidentally …” and the rest of the line.
Most people are super-uncomfortable with silence in conversations. Each extra second of it ratchets up the tension, wondering what the hell is coming next.
Whatever does come next really gets heard.
Silence can be a powerful tool in business and in communication in general. Let’s look to history first.
Silence Generates Potential Energy
Regrettably, many techniques used by speakers and motivators today were pioneered by renowned dictator A. Hitler.
It’s a tricky topic to wade into, trying to balance the greatest evil perpetrated in recent centuries with detached analysis of how he talked so many people into it.
I’ve seen documentaries of Hitler at pre-war rallies (sorry the ones that illustrate this aren’t online.) He’d get to the lectern, and just stare at the audience, who are making an expectant hum.
Rather than jump right in and start talking like a needy, approval-seeking presenter, he just stared them down. The room noise tapered down to silence.
He still stayed silent. Like 30 to 60 seconds, by the end of which there was an explosive level of tension and expectation in the room. Then he’d do the salute thing and they’d go apeshit. A pre-choreographed show of absolute control. They were ready to do the things he wanted.
Don’t go “Here’s something I learned from Hitler,” but leaving a three-second gap in your talk and just staring the audience down before an important point can be a powerful setup.
If that point is worthy of it.
Zoom, not so, much. It just looks like you’re checking your email. Save it for the return of in-person audiences.
Chinmoku Lowers Your Costs
An old-school export business guy I knew used to consult to Australian mining companies selling iron ore and coal into Japan in the 70s. He related how the Japanese buyers dealt with the Australian sales teams.
The Japanese kept the Australians busy with a week of site visit ceremony and late-night hospitality, using up all the time on the board until the final day.
Only then did the Australians get to present their proposed price per tonne in the boardroom.
Which was greeted by a wall of silence from across the table. Japanese people are completely comfortable with long silences. They call it chinmoku. Silence is an essential part of communication.
More than a moment’s silence makes white Australians break out in a rash. They have to fill it with words like “So, how about this humidity eh?”.
The Australians heard the silence as “Your price is a greedy affront, not only to us, but to our entire nation and our ancestors.”
I’m assuming the Japanese side of the table was actually thinking:
“This is so easy and enjoyable. We relax while they negotiate themselves down.”
The price tumbled in a one-sided reverse auction.
It took a few years before the Australians hired some Japanese consultants to explain this mystery.
It’s not only for big-ticket international deals.
I have seen Australian business owners do this to their own staff whenever they asked for a pay rise. Like, literally just stare at them while they negotiate themselves down to … their current salary.
If you find this happening to you, turn the tables. You do the silence and see what they come up with.
Pause To Look Thoughtful
Silence is a useful tool in sales too. When your client brings up something that’s clearly a Big Thing for them, pause before you respond.
Even if you know the answer.
It makes you look like you’ve thought about their individual needs.
Not like sales people who jump right in with the template answer before the client has even finished their sentence.
Some sales people think: my quick response makes me look like a smart person who knows all the information.
No, it feels like you’re brushing their input and feedback under the table. Particularly when the client is bringing up an issue they’re not happy with.
The Notes You Don’t Play
All communication is a team effort.
Look to the music world for the answer. Jazz icon Miles Davis said,
“It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”
Anyone who’s ever been in a band knows there’s the type who must fill all any gap with, well, fills.
Not to make the song better, because their piled-on additions create an overstuffed turducken of a tune. But rather to show off and stroke their own sense of self-worth. The technical term for these people is guitarists.
In meetings, in sales, in everyday life: don’t be a conversational guitarist.
Leave some space and let it work for you.
Check out some reviews, there are some absolute bangers thank you readers.
If you don’t have it already, what the hell is wrong with you? Buy it here in all the formats, including audiobook read by me if that’s your vibe.
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