Silence is powerful. Its place in communication is often overlooked, but it is almost as powerful as speech. It’s something of a shortcoming of human beings that we often can’t bear to have a moment or two’s silence before making a reply – we just have to put our point in, and do it without delay.
Once you realize that it is not necessary to fill every moment with sound you will begin to reap the benefits of injecting a few silent moments in your arguments. The usefulness of silence in de-escalating a situation that’s threatening to spiral out of control has already been discussed. Use this powerful effect when you find yourself in a situation where you and your opponent are starting to lose your cool.
The second use of silence in an argument is to give yourself some time to think. As given in the previous tip, while your opponent is speaking is not the right time to be formulating your reply. Not only does it divert your attention from their point, but it also divides your attention away from formulating a decent counter-point yourself.
Having a bit of silence in which to really contemplate what you are about to say in return, to begin to organize your thoughts, think about how exactly you will word and execute your counter-argument and dredge up the information you’ll need from your memory will increase the quality of your counter-arguments by magnitudes. Being a creature of reflex in your arguments is unadvisable. You really do need to think about what you are about to say and discard any rash, damaging retorts that may pop into your head in the heat of the moment.
The effect of silence on your opponent goes beyond just defusing their anger. Silence is the hallmark of a thinker, and using it will communicate to your opponent that you really are giving a good deal of thought to their argument and your replies. Being perceived in that way will go a long way in helping your opponent accept your arguments.
Of course, your opponent may not immediately cooperate with your silence. They may take your silence as a sign that you have no response, or may want to run their argument on and on. The use of facial expressions will be discussed more fully in the next tip, but use them to communicate to your opponent that you have something to say.
Taking a deep breath denotes that you are preparing yourself to answer and has the added advantage of giving you the wind you need to speak. Wearing a pensive look on your face, nodding, raising your hands as if about to make a point or any combination of the three are also a good indicator that you are still considering your answer.