Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

It Pays to Remain Silent

The above video shows a scene from the American Sitcom “30 Rock”. It depicts a negotiation between Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and his nanny, Sherry. As you watch the video, it transpires that Sherry is asking for $400, her usual full time rate, when she is now only working part time. This seems pretty unreasonable, right? Well Jack appears to agree, and attempts to negotiate. He fails. Miserably. Why? Because Sherry implements a key, and very clever, negotiation tactic: she remains silent. This silence leads to the usual smooth talking, calm and collected Jack becoming flustered, resorting to strange analogies about the price of potatoes to try and prove his point. The silence and apparent disinterest in the conversation displayed by Sherry clearly unnerves Jack, and he ends up giving her the full $400 without her saying so much as a few words!

Whilst it might seem counterintuitive to keep schtum in a negotiation, the case of Jack and Sherry certainly shows that it does indeed pay to be silent. In fact, whilst research into silence as a negotiation tactic is scarce, the overarching message gained from the few which have been conducted show that employing silence in a negotiation is more effective than direct confrontation (Chu, Strong, Ma & Greene, 2005). Indeed, two of the most powerful and affluent countries in the world, China and Japan, have frequently been found to utilise the silence tactic in their negotiations with other countries (Boughton, 2009). Research has suggested that the silence demonstrated by these Asian cultures is the key to their negotiation success; remaining calm and saying little means no unnecessary concessions are made. The other party, however, in the face of this silence, are likely to feel rejected, and may resort to making a compensatory concession which benefits the silent party (Adler & Gundersen, 2007). This may explain why Western cultures, who are much more likely to try and talk their way through a negotiation, have considerably less success in negotiations than Asian cultures (Tung, 1984). Interestingly, silence is also a technique that law enforcement officers involved in hostage and crisis negotiations often utilise. It has been suggested that in some hostage situations, remaining silent can unnerve the captor, and potentially lead them to reduce their demands (Greenstone, 2013).  

Overall then, it seems that silence is both a powerful and successful negotiation tactic. If we are ever in a position where we want to bleed our bosses dry like the cunning Sherry, remaining silent is the way to go.


Boughton, A. (2009). Cultural Impact on Negotiation.
Accessed on the 18/03/2014 from:

Chu, Y., Strong, W. F., Ma, J., & Greene, W. E. (2005). Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 9(2).

Greenstone, J. L. (2013). The Elements of Police Hostage and Crisis Negotiations: Critical Incidents and How to Respond to Them. Oxford: Taylor & Francis Group Ltd.

Adler, N. J., & Gundersen, A. (2007). International Dimensions of Organizational Behaviour. Stamford: Cengage Learning.

Tung, R. L. (1984). Business negotiations with the Japanese. The International Executive, 26, 6-8.

Jordan Green (Blog 5)

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