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Negotiate Effectively: Body Language Revelations

This lesson is a part of an audio course Negotiate Effectively by Barbara J. Bruno

Why do some people seem to just breeze through the negotiating process, while others struggle and find the entire process stressful? Often those if find negotiating effortless have learned to pay more attention to the non-verbal messages and adjust their behavior and strategies accordingly. So often, the "unsaid" things reveal the most information.

Non-Verbal Signals

When you are negotiating, you and your counterpart are communicating two separate ways, one is verbal, and the other is non-verbal. It can be compared with having two different conversations simultaneously. You have learned through this course the importance of being prepared, conducting your research, and planning your approach. Now let's address how your verbal communication is often NOT the most important message you are sending to your counterpart.

Research has proven that in a 30-minute negotiation, two people can send over 800 different nonverbal signals. If you focus on the verbal exchange along and ignore the nonverbal, you stand a chance of coming away from a negotiation wondering why you did not achieve the results you had anticipated.

Five Body Language Giveaways

  1. Facial expression. You can determine if they are listening, receptive, or bored. If there is plenty of muscle movement, you have an attentive person. Look for surprises, confusion, or disagreement in the eyebrows. Find frustration or anger if their nostrils flare. Look for clues about agreement or differences from the expressions of a person's mouth.

  2. Posture. How a person walks in the room or sits in a chair are telegraphing nonverbal clues. If they sit up and lean forward in their chair, they are enthusiastic and confident. If they slump back, that is a sign of lack of interest. Notice if they walked in or out of the room with their head held high or were they slumped and guarded.

  3. Sounds. Listen for the sounds a person makes without words. These can be sighs, grunts, or groans. Sometimes they are a burst of laughter. This sounds like you know if the person is agreeing or disagreeing with you.

  4. Eyes. The most important element of your body language is to maintain eye contact throughout the entire negotiation process. Observe where their eyes are focused. Are they looking at you or through you, there is a big difference? It is difficult for a person to look you straight in the eye and not be sincere.

  5. Gestures. Observe the other person's gestures. If they are open and expressive, chances are they are honest. Look for hand or arm movements that seem nervous or fidgety. If arms are folded, they are inadvertently putting a barrier between you that could indicate deference.

Successful negotiators take their time and observe nonverbal messages and use them to their advantage. They view potential conflicts and then constructively turn them around. Once you learn these skills, it will increase your confidence in spotting nonverbal messages. This can sustain you through even the most difficult negotiations.

Five Body Language Guidelines to Help You Hold Your Own

  1. Arrive with the right attitude. Before you enter the meeting room, pull your shoulders back, hold your head high, take a deep breath, and walk in as your "best self," exuding confidence and energy. Open your eyes wide, smile, and make eye contact with each of your counterparts.

  2. Shake hands. Initiate the handshake, lean forward, and extend your hand with your palm facing sideways. Maintain eye contact and continue to smile. Press firmly and start talking before you let go. "It's great to meet you," and then introduce yourself.

  3. Establish rapport. Rapport is the foundation for a win/win outcome. To continue building rapport, maintain eye contact, lean forward, use head nods of encouragement, and smile when appropriate. Mirror the other person's body posture, gestures, expressions, and so on. Mirroring builds agreement, but you must be subtle.

  4. Be confident. Showing your torso is one way of demonstrating a high level of confidence, security, or trust. The more you cover your torso with folded arms, crossed legs, and so on, the more it appears you need to protect or defend yourself. Your feet also reveal your self-confidence. When you stand with your feet close together, you seem timid. When you widen your stance, relax your knees, and center your weight in your lower body, you seem sure of yourself. Power is also displayed by height and space. If you stand, you will look more powerful to those who are seated. If you move around, the additional space you take up adds to that impression. If you are sitting, you can project power by stretching your legs and arms, and by spreading out your belongings on the table and claiming more space.

  5. Make a positive last impression. Make a strong exit. Stand tall, shake hands warmly, and leave your counterpart with the impression that you are someone they should want to negotiate with again in the future.

Knowing what you can convey and what other's body language reveals to you gives you a definite advantage during the negotiating process.

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Written by

Barbara J. Bruno

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