The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

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man checking his wristwatch

Instant messaging, high-speed downloads, online streaming, same-day delivery—we have been conditioned to expect immediate response. Yet this culturally conditioned impatience also makes strategic waiting significantly more valuable in negotiations. We all want what we can’t get, but a long delay can help you get your way.

Stalling in a negotiation is a means to shake out information. When your counterpart has made an offer, but you feel you have reached a stalemate, a delay allows more time to research and plan. It is an opportunity to consider alternatives, reflect on your counterpart’s objectives, and test their patience. If they come back to the table and nudge you to counter, you know they are serious about getting a deal done. If both of you are waiting without contact, it could mean they have reached their limit or it could mean they are playing the same holdout strategy. Regardless, how your counterpart responds to your delayed response gives you some insight into your position and theirs.

Keep in mind that your counterpart can withdraw their offer at any time during your delay. Before employing this strategy, you should have defined your threshold for closing versus walking. Part of that defining process will include setting a time period for which you feel comfortable delaying. For example, in a single day, rapid-speed negotiation, an hour may be torture for the other side. But a lengthy, drawn-out back-and-forth may require you to be patient and bide your time for days, weeks, or even months.

If your counterpart blinks and comes back with another attempt to reach a deal, you have a new opportunity to decide whether and for how long to hold out on responding. Always keep in mind that while making the other side anxious can advance your position, it can also backfire. There is a delicate balance between patience and practicality that needs to be exercised in every negotiation.

Holding out and practicing patience is one of many tactical negotiation tools, but it may not be the one that gets you to your goal. Be prepared to pivot and adapt to every new development in a negotiation. Focus on your counterpart, who they are, what motivates them, and how they communicate. And remember that even high-stakes negotiations go more smoothly when you are calm, relaxed, and in control—and that includes remaining in control of your time.