The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, Sloan School of Management has reported on a new study, appearing soon in the Journal of Psychology, telling about the positive effect “silence” can have on negotiations for all the parties involved.
Researchers found that when one party doesn’t immediately respond to the other party it allows them time to come up with new ideas that can help both parties win instead of immediately responding and using the traditional approach of one side has to lose for the other side to win. They also found out that the silence was not as awkward as people sometimes perceive it to be.
Having that period of silence isn’t new to us at CALMC. We normally encourage groups to use silence with problem solving. We suggest groups use “silent generation” time during brainstorming sessions . Silent generation time gives people the opportunity to focus and concentrate. That silent time is only about five minutes but, just as they found with the negotiations, the result is better. People come up with more and better ideas than if they did a more typical popcorn style brainstorming. Without taking some silent time, it can result in a single solution that everyone goes along with and ends up being a bad solution. Time is wasted as everyone has to look for other solutions all over again.
Silence isn’t the only technique that can help make both sides win in negotiations. There’s a bargaining process many labor practitioners are familiar with and that’s interest-based bargaining. It’s sometimes called win-win negotiations because the process itself is designed for both sides to win. The process is based on identifying the common interests of the parties which helps them come up with solutions that both sides can support. Interests are concerns, needs, wants, or fears. We use it as a problem solving process and have blogged about it many times. It can be used with just about any group or decision not just with labor-management issues.
The interest-based process has deliberate steps including the step to identify separate interests and then common interests of the parties. Most of the time, the parties will find they have more in common than they thought. The common interests help parties develop solutions that everyone can support. The process also allows for objectivity to help with decision-making on the multiple solutions developed.
Silence can also be built into the interest-based process because immediate responses are not needed. It may not be silence built into the process but each of the steps can be done in different sessions. For example, when we work with groups, depending on the issue or project we’re working on, we may only do a step or two at a meeting. It may take several meetings to look at solutions, again depending on the problem or project, because more information is needed or additional problem solving techniques are necessary or constituents need to be contacted.
When the report comes out in the Journal of Psychology it may provide more information on how silence works but from the work we’ve done, it’s not the silence that brings people together. It takes more than that to create win-win scenarios.
One thing that helps is the commitment committees have to creating a win-win environment. It’s not always easy and it can take time and effort to work on some issues. The best work we’ve seen has come from those committees who are committed to the process. Committees have worked on all kinds of issues related to safety, scheduling, layoffs, technology changes and a whole host of other items.
Plus, it’s more about what happens during silence that provides for the best outcome for parties. It’s about doing real problem solving that explores the problem and multiple solutions. It’s about taking the time to learn and discover. We live in an instantaneous world and we’ve become too reliant on tech providing quick responses but it takes more than tech to make the decisions. Tech giving us a response doesn’t guarantee the right response but it can be the reason for silence. Tech can be a tool to use with our problem solving.
The report mentions job negotiations and how silence can actually be rewarding for both parties but again it’s what happens while there is silence. It’s just like problem solving. It’s about learning. That may involve learning about a job or learning more about a person to fill a job. That can help to make successful decisions and not rush to judgment.
That’s why silence is much better than the quick response. It allows us time to research, do our problem solving and come up with possible solutions.