The Power Of Body Language In A Negotiation

In order to be an effective negotiator you need to be able to read body language
In order to be an effective negotiator you need to be able to read body language
Image Credit: Paolo Fefe’

So it turns out that every negotiation that we are in has two different conversations going on at the same time. The one that we are most familiar with is the one that comes out of our mouth and we can follow along with using our ears. The one that you may not be aware of and which has nothing to do with the negotiation styles and negotiating techniques that are being used has to do with body language. The other side of the table is always sending you clear messages about how they are feeling. Likewise, you are sending them messages also. In order to be an effective negotiator, you need to be able to read the other side’s body language and understand what they are saying.


Should We Mimic The Other Side Or Not?

One of the most powerful body language tools that a negotiator has is called mimicry. What happens is that when you sit down at the negotiating table, you discover that you and the other side are sitting in the same position, perhaps leaning back with your legs crossed. It turns out that after negotiators have been in each other’s presence for just a few minutes, their behavior begins to subtly converge.

What happens is that their breathing patterns and heart rates sync up, and they also tend to mimic each other’s posture and hand gestures. When this happens to you, you should congratulate yourself. What’s going on here is that mimicry is a sign that you’re both striving to build rapport, connect, and find common ground, even if you don’t know how or when the mimicry started. From a negotiator’s point-of-view mimicry seems to make us feel comfortable with others and encourages us to trust them. In fact, we tend to view those who mimic our movements when they talk to us as more persuasive and honest than those who choose to not mimic us. Negotiators who are already aware of the benefits of mimicry may attempt to use it strategically, copying your gestures deliberately to build rapport – this is something that you need to look out for.


The Issue Of Trust

Trust is a key part of any negotiation that we engage in. If we were to strike a deal with the other side, would they fulfill their side of the agreement? During the negotiation, their body language may provide you with clues as to if they can be trusted. The people who do research on such things tell us that that most of us tend to automatically trust those we meet — and we only adjust our perceptions in the face of overwhelming evidence. The power of visual cues guide our behavior. During a negotiation when you’re evaluating a negotiator’s trustworthiness, it pays to remember that some nonverbal signs are more important than others when using body language in negotiation.

It turns out that that liars sometimes have trouble matching their facial expressions to the emotion they’re communicating. A good example of this is when a liar has difficulty coordinating their behavior—saying no while nodding yes, for example. Liars also sometimes forget to add a number of the gestures such as pitch variations, raised eyebrows, and widened eyes that we make naturally when telling the truth. Negotiators cannot count on nonverbal signs exclusively when assessing someone’s trustworthiness. If you want to determine if the other side is lying to you, you need to ask lots of specific, clear questions about their claims. Even better, try asking different versions of the same question at several points in your conversation and compare the answers.


Can You Read The Other Side’s Mind?

During a negotiation, you may be feeling one thing; however, it is in your best interests to represent to the other side that you are feeling a different way. This is common for all of us: we’ll smile when things are not going our way or we’ll look interested when what is being discussed really has little or no value to us. We don’t want the other side to know how we are really feeling. What is the best way for us to keep our true feelings under wraps? How skilled are we at communicating emotions that don’t quite match our true feelings? Researchers have given a name to how our true feelings may leak out. They call them “micro-expressions” — fleeting, involuntary signs of one’s genuine emotions, such as a blush or a grimace — that might tip others off to our true thoughts.

So if we are giving off signs of how we really feel, can the other side detect how we are currently feeling? It turns out that micro-expressions can be all but impossible for anyone but a trained researcher to detect. The good news for negotiators is that you may have trouble hiding your feelings, but others may be even worse at detecting them. During a negotiation most people will take your social niceties at face value. At the same time, you should practice expressing difficult positions in a constructive, sensitive manner. In negotiations, sometimes words do speak louder than actions.


What All Of This Means For You

During a principled negotiation, both sides are communicating with each other using both words and body language. As negotiators we need to be aware of both of the conversations that are going on. We need to take the time to read and interpret what the other side’s body language is trying to tell us. At the same time we need to be careful what we might be telling the other side though our body language.

During a negotiation it can be very easy for us to start to mimic the physical positions that the other side is assuming. We may not even be aware that we are doing this. However, when we position our body the way that the other side is positioned we may make them trust us more. Trust is a key part of any negotiation. Body language can tell us if we can really trust the other side. If their facial expressions are not matching what their words are saying, then there is a good chance that they are lying to us. If what we are thinking does not match what we are trying to express to the other side, we need to be aware that we may be making small gestures that communicate our true feelings. These micro-expressions are difficult to pick up on so the other side probably won’t be able to detect them.

In order to be able to steer a negotiation in the direction that we want it to go, we need to make sure that we are fully aware of what the other side is trying to tell us as well as what we are communicating to them. Realizing that our bodies, and the bodies of the other side, are communicating their own messages during a negotiation is critical. During your next negotiation, take the time to listen to what the other side’s body language is trying to tell you and then use that information to move the negotiation closer to the deal that you want to reach.


– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™


Question For You: Do you think that you should ever tell the other side what you are hearing their body language tell you?


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The Power Of Body Language In A Negotiation