“The more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control… Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.”
— Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power
Most people think being loud and proud is the way to power. They see the popular person in their social circle making the most noise and assume that that’s the best way to get popular. But true power and self-control come from always saying less than necessary, not more. It is the 4th Law of Power to always say less than necessary.
There are 4 key advantages to always saying less than necessary.
#1 You Learn More
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The natural human tendency is to talk talk talk. We want to be the ones to be heard. We want everyone to know about our opinion so we can feel important. It feels so good to let it all out and be the one person who’s voice is heard.
But talking doesn’t do much for you at all in terms of learning. When you’re talking, you’re projecting the thoughts in your head out into the world. You’re sharing some kind of information whether it be opinion, facts, or whatever the conversation is about. You’re the one sharing knowledge with the world.
If you’re the one sharing information, and it’s polite to only have one person speaking at a time, then you don’t have the opportunity to gain any information yourself. You’re passing on your information, but no one is giving you anything back until you give them a chance to talk.
When you’re a listener, it’s the exact opposite. The other person in the conversation is the one giving out the information while you absorb it. They’re passing out information while you absorb new knowledge. That’s far more valuable to you since you get to learn something. When you talk, you learn nothing.
You should always strive to listen with the intent to fully understand the person you’re trying to talk to. Don’t think of your next reply while you’re listening, just absorb everything they’re saying and think about it.
The other person talking to you has had totally different experiences than you and is likely carrying very different knowledge in their head than you. The only way to learn from them is to listen.
#2 What You Do Say is Smart
“I cannot trust a man to control others if he cannot control himself”
— Robert E. Lee
Have you ever walked away from a discussion or heated debate, only to remember the perfect response hours later once you got home? Most people have had this experience. In the heat of the moment, they’re firing off their replies, trying to win the verbal battle. But because they’re doing so much talking, they’re not taking the time to think of that perfect response, so they never come up with it.
Staying silent in a conversation allows you to think — an opportunity which far too many people take for granted. Take a step back during your conversations. Give yourself those few seconds to think over all the information so far and how you wish to intelligently respond. Those few seconds are really all you need. Just a brief moment to collect your thoughts.
Silence can also be used as a tactic all by itself, as is commonly done in negotiating. Notice how when you’re negotiating, say, for example, on the price of something or a salary, there’s always pressure to respond right away. When someone asks you a question or replies to you, there’s that feeling of a spotlight on you, as if the whole world is waiting to see how you’ll respond.
The key here is to ignore the pressure. It’s nothing more than a fake mood in the room. Instead, use silence to your advantage.
When someone offers you a price, stay completely silent for 15 seconds while you think. The pressure alone will often cause the person negotiating on the other side of the table to give in, sometimes even lower the price in your favor. They think that your silence is a sign of displeasure with the offer — but you know that you’re just using it to bide your time.
With this technique, you’ll never be caught off guard again. While everyone is thinking fast (or not at all), responding to you at rapid-fire, you’re able to think and form intelligent, well directed responses.
#3 Your Words Carry More Weight
“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence”
― Leonardo da Vinci
As an extension of everything you say sounding smarter, your words will also gain far more credibility. People who talk a lot have many more opportunities for saying stupid things. Their words lose value over time. People stop believing them as they lose interest, assuming the person will say something wrong by default.
When you stay silent and get used to thinking about your responses, you will gain credibility. People will get used to your smart and well-thought-out words. They get used to you being labeled as “the person who says smart things” in their own heads.
On top of that, there’s the authoritative tone you set when you stay silent. When someone asks you a question and you respond quickly, you’re subconsciously setting the tone that you’ll fold under pressure. The person placed the pressure on you to respond and you quickly caved with your rapid-fire response.
But when wait silently and think, you’re setting the tone of power, strength, and intelligence. You’re not pressured to reply quickly. When someone asks you a question or pitches you a price, you’ll take your sweet time replying. You don’t care if you make the other person wait, you’re confident in taking your time to form a firm response. That’s power.
#4 You Win Friends and Influence People
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you”
— Dale Carnegie
People are really used to being talked to. It’s the norm to be in a conversation, say something, and then get a response that has no care in the world for what you just said. The person was just waiting for their turn to speak instead of listening to you.
When you become a listener, you fill the void everyone’s been longing for to be filled: the need to be heard. Everyone loves getting attention and feeling important. They’ll get that from your listening.
Talking back will make you look just like everybody. They hear you and quickly know that you’re going to be just like all the others looking for the spotlight of attention. But if you listen, you stand out. You show that you truly care since you’re setting aside your natural wants for theirs. You’re setting aside your need to be heard for theirs. That’s flattering, and it feels good. People will appreciate it and love you for it.
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene