Does Your Body Language Mumble?

by drjim on September 1, 2008

Learn to spot what the other side's body language is telling you during a negotiation

Learn to spot what the other side's body language is telling you during a negotiation

Ah body language, the secret communications channel that we couldn’t turn off if we wanted to. When we are negotiating it’s important to remember that your body is giving off all sorts of signals that you may or may not want it to be sending. I’m not sure if you can prevent your personal body language from stuttering or mumbling like you can your spoken words, but the good news is that you are not the only one talking this way. The other side is also giving you many clues as to what they are thinking and what their next move might be. If you are attuned to watch for and read the other side’s body language, then you just might find yourself in the driver’s seat for this negotiation. Let’s see if we can decode some of the messages that are being sent your way:

  • Key point: it’s when there is change in someone’s gestures that we should take notice. When they start to make a new gesture, that indicates that they have just started to feel someway. Don’t get hung up by individual gestures, rather focus on groups of gestures – they are the ones that are really telling you a story.
  • Our (and their) attitude is formed by initial interaction with people. We quickly form an attitude of openness or attitude of defensiveness. Keep your eyes open and pick up on these initial body gestures when you first meet the other side.

Let’s talk about some single gestures. Remember, don’t fret about these if you see them individually, it’s when you see them in groups that they are really sending you a message:

  • Cooperation & agreement: Gestures that expose the body imply trust, communicate “yes” , obvious and meant to be seen. Arms away from the body or over the head are a good example of this.
  • Slow & deliberate gestures: Open hands: show a willingness to meet the situation. Uncrossed arms and legs are another good example of this.
  • Moving forward: in negotiations we really like to see these gestures because they indicate that we’re going to make some progress – Hands on hips , feet apart. Often the signs of a high achiever, or a go-getter who wants to reach a negotiated agreement.
  • Hands on chest , this is a way to reinforce sincerity
  • Rubbing palms , shows both eagerness & expectancy
  • Appraisal & interest: there are a lot of ways to show this, one of the more common is when the head is tilted.
  • Hand to cheek gestures: Chin in hand, finger along bottom , evaluating what we are saying: interest, calm evaluation; Stroking the chin , making a decision about what you are saying
  • Interest In The Conversation: more interest , leaning forward you , I’m with you; less interest , leaning back, away from you.
  • Confidence: good eye contact, steepling with fingers , higher up from lap, more confidant (up by the eyes , too confidant!), hand in packet w/ a finger out , confidence, hands laced behind the head , confidence, legs crossed also means they are feeling quite smug.

There you have it – a laundry list of body gestures that you can look for during your next negotiation. Remember that the other side is probably going to be focused on the actual steps in the negotiation and may not be working to pick up on your body language. If so, you’ve just found a great advantage that just might help you to come out ahead!

Have you ever observed someone’s body language during a negotiation and then used that information during the negotiation? Has your body ever given away information that you wished that it hadn’t? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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