I loved watching Perry Mason on television. Suave, cool, and kind, he was the master of outfoxing his competition. One scene I distinctly remember is when Perry Mason was sitting at a restaurant table and Hamilton Burger, the blustery district attorney, stops by and demands an answer from Perry. Back in the day when you could smoke inside, Perry took out a cigarette, flicked open his lighter, inhaled deeply, and then answered. Burger called him out on it. The cigarette was a delay for Perry to think of his answer.
Is this small delay only for fictional characters? No, Queen Elizabeth I did it too. She was brilliant and could understand complex situations, but she knew when to slow down the conversation. The French ambassador was negotiating with the Queen but she made their conversation stray off topic. One comment the Queen kept adding was how hard it must be for the ambassador because he had to work “with old women such as I.”
Was this a woman easily distracted, a sign of aging? Not so. The French ambassador realized that this Queen was deliberately slowing down the conversation. She was giving herself time to think. She was luring him into a false sense of security, to make him think he was negotiating with a doddering older woman. Instead, it was for England, part of shrewd negotiations.
The French ambassador admired the Queen for it. He wrote, “She is a very great princess.” And while we may not have such nation-involving conversations every day, we do work, we deal with clients, we all have difficult conversations. We demand of ourselves that we be quick on our feet in conversations. But we don’t have to be.
Sometimes it’s best to sloooow down the conversation.
Source: Alan Axelrod’s Elizabeth I CEO: Strategic Lessons from the Leader Who Built An Empire