Starting with Shaun FitzPatrick, Major USMC.
In the "media training" I underwent before I went to Iraq with 8th Marines, they addressed this technique in our interview practice sessions. Basically we were told, when you're done talking, stop, and don't let that pause goad you into say something stupid.
Also, we were told to watch for this especially with print reporters. With TV crews, the reporters generally try to fill the air with noise. Silence stands out uncomfortably on TV and it's the journalist's job to fill the air. You don't have that problem.
By the way toughest interviews I ever did were on NPR, not because of harsh treatment or anything like that, but because the radio reporter asks you to describe in detail for listeners who can't see what you're talking about. It's tougher than I thought it would be.
When I asked FitzPatrick if I could use his name, he said: "I was taught in The Basic School that only cowards submit anonymous reviews. Everything I ever send or say is on the record." In that admirable spirit, three real-name accounts after the jump involving sales and journalism.
As a reporter I try to use the "silent treatment" during interviews. What I didn't expect was where I would be subjected to this technique -- at a car dealership.
I recently bought a new car and negotiated a fair price with the salesperson. She then took me to see the Finance Manager. He sat me down and explained that my new car was very expensive, that there were many dangers out there that would damage my vehicle, and that I needed rustproofing, special paint polish, and an extended warranty to protect my investment.
And then he shut up. And stared at me. And waited.
I honestly felt like I was under cross-examination. He clearly wanted me to break the silence by saying "Yes, I want the extended warranty, etc." I said no, but I couldn't look him in the eye. He used the silent treatment over and over. I really felt the urge to give him what he wanted but I knew the add-ons were useless. It took a great deal of effort to stay strong.
An hour later I left the dealership in my new car and with no rustproofing, special paint or extended warranty. I should have felt elated in my new ride. After being on the receiving end of the silent treatment, however, I left shaken and felt somehow defeated.
I have been in sales a number of different times in my career. Silence is an especially valuable tool when selling , for pretty much the same reason.
Clients are uncomfortable with the quiet and want to fill the air. We always said, "Whoever talks first loses" but it isn't quite as simple as that. People will tell you things (if you just shut up!) when given the chance. Silence is the best way to handle it.
One reason silence is such an underused interview technique is because so many of today's "journalists" are in love with the sound of their own voice.
One day while working in the White House Press Corps technical side, Chris Wallace and I were attempting to share the men's room mirror. When I commented that the correspondents needed a bigger mirror, he responded, "No, Tom, we need smaller heads."