Got timing?

Happy tortoise cartoonNo, that’s not a typo. I really do mean timing.

When you’re in a negotiation of any sort – from a simple request to a tough business challenge to a full-on conflict situation – sensitivity to timing is a crucial, and often-overlooked, factor.

Timing comes into play in several ways – and all of them are important, no matter whether you’re talking to your boss, a co-worker, an employee, or, for that matter, a friend or family member.

Their readiness

You can be 100% prepared with what you want, why you want it, and why it’s in the best interests of the other person to give it to you.

You can even be 100% prepared with what they want, why they want it, and how you can achieve your goals while respecting theirs.

But if you’re not also aware of their readiness to hear what you have to say, you can easily lose before you even begin.

Are they morning people, or are they grumpy till after lunch? Or do they droop by midafternoon?

Is there a looming deadline they’re racing toward, or are they celebrating a recent success?

Are they preparing to head out on vacation, or perhaps for an important meeting – or maybe they just got back from vacation and are scrambling to catch up with the 734 emails in their in-box?

And simply enough, do they seem calm, or stressed?

When you’re in the throes of anticipation and nervousness about this thing you want to talk with them about, it’s tempting to just jump in at the first opportunity.

It’s hard to be patient, but in the long run it will serve you to wait for the right timing.

The conversation

Go slow. Let the other person have their say. Listen. Breathe.

When the other person feels as if you’ve heard and understood them – and better yet, if they feel you’ve actually empathized with them – they’ll be exponentially more ready, able, and willing to hear what you have to say. (For more on the three levels of empathy, read this article.)

So let them talk.

And don’t over-explain. Over-explaining almost always leads to trouble, if only because it gives the other person something to debate with you. (For more on the problem with over-explaining, read this article.)

Take your time and pace the conversation easily and slowly.

The power of silence

A good friend once said, “Silence is a full partner in the process.”

So true. And yet most people are uncomfortable with silence, especially if they’re in a tense, high-stakes conversation, negotiation, or conflict.

After you ask a question, be quiet. Give them plenty of time to answer.

Likewise, when they ask you a question, give yourself time to answer. Pausing before you speak isn’t a sign of uncertainty. Quite the opposite: it’s a sign of thoughtfulness and care.

And because most people are uncomfortable with silence, when you allow silence to be your partner the other person will often step in (or speak in!) to fill it. Which means you’ll get that much more useful information about how they feel, what they want, and how you can work with that to achieve your goals.

By the way, silence goes beyond how you interact in one single meeting. In ongoing negotiations spread out over multiple meetings, leaving plenty of time between those meetings is another form of silence. And it communicates your willingness to take all the time that’s needed, rather than being anxious or nervous about wrapping things up quickly.

Timing is about confidence

When you have good timing, you project confidence. You’re not in a rush about when you meet, how quickly the meeting goes, who speaks first or for how long, how many pauses there may be, or how long those pauses are – whether minutes or days.

And timing is also a gift you can give yourself to slow down, relax, and think things through.

After all, it was the tortoise who won the race, not the hare!