Reflections: THE SOUND OF SILENCE

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by Tim Warlow

My very first listing appointment in real estate was like walking through a mine field with my eyes closed.

I had been calling these nice folks for 6 months, after meeting them at a mostly uneventful open house near their church and they were finally ready to list the house.

I wanted this listing bad, no, I needed this to prove to myself that I could do it. That I could compete with the Boerne establishment for market share, price a home correctly, market effectively and SELL a home in a desirable neighborhood.


 

Up until that point I had been selling land in Bandera, because it was the only market I could afford to advertise to 100% of the exposure for online leads. It was fine, but these were just $100k lots and required a lot of driving and challenging financing situations to close.

This listing in Fair Oaks Ranch was a slam dunk. A big house on an ample cul de sac lot with beautiful trees, an updated interior, stainless appliances and the sought after open floor plan.

My clients were a lovely couple, near the end of their careers, and looking to downsize from their 3,000 square foot house to prepare for retirement. This wasn’t their first home sale; meaning they had 400% more experience than I had, but somehow my persistence was about to pay off.

We walked through the house, admiring the upgrades they had made, the well kept yard, and the hardwood floors they had picked out. We talked about how excited they were to downsize to a newer home closer to their kids, in the same neighborhood if possible. They wanted to see their grandkids every week during the retirement they had worked so hard to earn.

The irony wasn’t lost on me: They were at the end of their careers, I was eager to start mine.

Then a tension started to fill the air as I began stumbling through the business part. I told them my interpretation of the market as the green began oozing from behind my ears. They wanted $50,000 more than what I thought it would bear. I conceded.
Then we went through my marketing strategy. Photos, video, social media ads, zillow (still fresh at the time) and how we would use these tactics to drive more attention and buyers to the property.

They wanted a newspaper ad.

I said “While 90% of home sales start online, today, I’d be willing to run an ad for you” knowing full well not one pre-qualified, serious buyer would find the ad in the newspaper and make an offer on the house.

Then the talk about fees started.

“While I cover all the marketing expenses, I charge 6% for our services and only get paid when you get paid,” I smiled and waited for a response.

“Would you be willing to do it for 4%?”

I was shocked. I hadn’t even started working yet and they were already trying to get me to take a 66% discount. I know you’re thinking my math is off, but we typically only take 3% of the total, and pay the buyers agent 3% for their work of bringing the buyer to our listing. That would leave me with just 1% at the end of the deal, nearly a loss after expenses and overhead of running a real business.

I waited, primarily because I didn’t know what to say. I sat back in my chair, taking a more relaxed position because in my head I was already going to have to walk away from more than $10,000.

I stared at the seller making eye contact, not aggressively but with an intensity like I understood what he was trying to do.

“The Abe Lincoln approach, huh?” He said.

I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he saw something I didn’t.

“First person to speak loses, right?” He continued to elucidate.

“Yeah something like that,” I smirked, still unsure if this was actually working or if I was going to lose.

“Ok, well let’s just do 6%,” He conceded.

I was astounded. Somehow in my ignorance I had closed a deal that would make me nearly half a year’s salary at my old job, simply by shutting my mouth.

“How did that work?” I thought to myself as I stood up to shake his hand. All I did was keep my mouth shut and not concede defeat right away.

What I didn’t know at the time is how much silence can speak. How being comfortable in silence can be the most powerful thing on the planet.

Isn’t everything more interesting as a mystery? You let someone’s imagination run wild when you leave them on “read”, even if you’re just thinking about how to craft a response. It alludes to an underlying confidence and the belief that your counterpart needs you more than you need them. Silence shifts the balance, gives you leverage in a conversation as the other party wonders what’s going through your mind.

I wonder if that’s why life today can feel so brutally uneventful. There is so much information at the touch of a button, we hardly rely on memory or even sit in the silence of a mystery before rushing to find the answer.

“Who’s that red-headed actor from The Big Green?”

“How tall is Yao Ming?”

“When did the U.S. go off the gold standard?”

We can’t bear to sit in the nothingness of not knowing. Checking up on friends online, investigating random murders 2,000 miles away, eavesdropping on celebrity conversations and Britney Spears bizarre instagram posts. It’s all there.

It’s not that the information is bad, no it’s incredibly powerful in its own way, but what would happen if more people resigned to not knowing and lived in the blissful abyss of ignorance. Our thoughts wander from money, politics, child rearing and “does my life have meaning?” as if there are right answers to all these questions.

So how does one become powerful and dangerous?

Say less, question more.

For starters, we can learn to be silent in tense moments, ask thoughtful, guiding questions instead of giving answers, and we allow people to feel powerful themselves.

A weak person is afraid of others’ success, because they believe it diminishes their own achievements. They want to give advice, tell the person what to do and how to solve their problem. The powerful person guides their counterpart to the answer by following a logical trail of questions, in turn allowing the person to feel the autonomy of making their own decision, patiently waiting for them to discover the solution on their own.

This approach is two-fold. Firstly, by allowing the person to discover the correct answer on their own, you avoid blame for the outcome should it not turn out the way you intended. Secondly, you give the person the courage to take action by building up their confidence in finding the solution and generally being a better friend.

One of the great stoic philosophers Seneca wrote “I have begun to be a friend to myself…a person who is a friend to themselves is an aid to all mankind. Why? Because they are kind, they are calm, they are healthy, they have empathy for others, they aren’t desperate, they don’t need to pull others down to make themselves feel better, and they can quietly spend time alone.”

Silence shows strength, confidence and even courage in trying times and simply being silent can persuade others into a reciprocal calm, focused state. However, it all begins with comfortably being alone with yourself.

Have you ever conversed with someone uncomfortable with silence, always needing to have something to say in response to your story, one-upping at every chance, hardly waiting for you to finish your thought before they speak? Not only is it annoying and awkward, it shows a weakness in that person, that they need to speak for your validation or praise, that any lull in a conversation is an indication that they are uninteresting. They are unpracticed in the art of silence.

I have been that person.

For many years I thought that conversation was an opportunity to be right, to be heard, to give my thoughts and opinion, even without being asked. It was a necessity in my life to have others hear my thoughts regardless of the circumstance. Over the last several years, through rigorous meditation practice, that has changed.

Every morning for 10-20 minutes I sit alone, upright, alert, and focus on silence. Listen to my body as it breathes, listen to the birds chirp and the dogs jostle about, but I am a silent receiver of this information, like a radio receiving broadcast. I observe my own thoughts from a distance, allowing them to flow in and out of consciousness, simply acknowledging their presence.

When I first started meditating, I thought that my mind needed to be completely quiet, that the goal of meditation was to stop your thoughts, but I learned that you can hardly control your thoughts more than you can control a crying baby on an airplane or a tiger in the wild. Thoughts come like rushing waterfalls; we can choose to stand under them and be crushed, or step a few feet away and observe their beauty.

In this practice of silence, you gain control over your executive function, sort out which thoughts are important and which are distractions, which will lead to solace and which will lead you down an anxious dark path. You realize that alone you are powerful, that the only validation you need is from within.


“I am no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond itself. What company has that lonely lake, I pray? And yet it has not the blue devils, but the blue angels in it, in the azure tint of its waters.” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden Pond.

Let your mind be the lake, rippling out from your thoughts, but never breaking. In this practice you will realize the power of solitude, the confidence that comes from being silent and calm arises from being comfortable when everything around you is just making noise.