What Role Does Body Language Play In Negotiations?

Understanding body language can help you to get the deals that you want
Understanding body language can help you to get the deals that you want Image Credit: Michael Summers

When we sit down at the negotiating table, what do we really know about the other side? Generally not that much. We may have done some homework and we know their history and who they are currently working for. However, we may not know what they want to get out of the negotiation that they are involved in right now. If we want to learn more about where the other side is coming from, then we need to be able to interpret what they are trying to tell us during the negotiations. This means that we need to understand their body language.

It’s All About Body Language

The negotiation experts advise us to meet with the other side in person whenever possible rather than relying on the telephone or Internet. As convenient as all of that electronic media may be, they lack the visual cues offered by body language in negotiation. Body language helps to convey valuable information and forge connections in face-to-face talks. When we don’t have access to gestures and facial expressions, those of us who negotiate at a distance have trouble accurately reading each other’s tone and building rapport. But what can we negotiators learn from nonverbal behavior and body language in negotiation? Do we do a good job of reading each other’s gestures and expressions accurately? Can we increase our body language in negotiation success by taking steps to deliberately modify our own nonverbal behavior?

Should We Mimic The Other Side?

Let’s say that you have entered into a negotiation and the other side welcomes you into a conference room, and the two of you settle across from each other at the bargaining table. Twenty minutes later, the negotiations seem to be going very well. Just then you happen to notice that you and the other side are sitting in the same position, leaning back with your legs crossed. Feeling self-conscious, you wonder if you should shift position. It turns out that after two or more negotiators have been in each other’s presence for just a few minutes, their behavior begins to subtly converge. This means that their breathing patterns and heart rates sync up, and they also tend to mimic each other’s posture and hand gestures. Rather than feeling embarrassed or silly when you and another negotiator copy each other’s behavior, you should take a moment to congratulate yourself. Mimicry is a sign that both negotiators are striving to build rapport, connect, and find common ground, even if you don’t know how or when the mimicry started.

Mimicry seems to make negotiators feel comfortable with others and encourage each side to trust each other. In fact, we tend to view those who mimic our movements when they talk to us as more persuasive and honest than those who do not mimic us. We need to note that negotiators who are already aware of the benefits of mimicry may attempt to use it strategically by copying your gestures deliberately to build rapport. This is something that you need to start to look out for.

The Issue Of Trust In A Negotiation

Research has been done that shows that most of us tend to automatically trust those we meet. We will adjust our perceptions only in the face of overwhelming evidence. When you’re evaluating the other side’s trustworthiness, it pays to remember that some nonverbal signs are more important than others when using body language in negotiation. Liars sometimes have trouble matching their facial expressions to the emotion they’re trying to communicate to you. A liar might have difficulty coordinating their behavior. An example of this would be saying no while nodding yes. Liars also sometimes forget to add the extra things such as gestures, pitch variations, raised eyebrows, and widened eyes that we make naturally when telling the truth. Negotiators need to be careful to not count on nonverbal signs exclusively when assessing someone’s trustworthiness. If you want to smoke out a lie, ask lots of specific, clear questions about the other side’s claims. One way to go about doing this is to try asking different versions of the same question at several points in your conversation and compare the consistency of the responses.

What All Of This Means For You

When we are negotiating we need to be careful about what words we use to communicate with the other side. Our words can give away how we are currently feeling. It turns out that there is another conversation that is going on while we are negotiating. Body language, both ours and the other side’s is communicating what both sides are thinking. As negotiators we need to be able to read and understand the other side’s body language.

Negotiating in person is better than negotiating over the phone or over the internet. When we negotiate in person, we can see the other side’s facial expressions and read their body language. If we spend any amount of time with another negotiator, there is a very good chance that we’ll start to mimic their actions. This is a good thing and shows that both sides are working in synch with each other. We need to be careful to not trust the other side too easily. If they are lying to us, we should be able to spot it fairly easily through their body language.

In order to get the deal that you want out of your next negotiation, you are going to have to be able to make sure that you understand what the other side really wants. In order to do this, you need to take the time to listen to what they are telling you. This means listening to their words and also reading their body language. What their body is telling you is just as important as what they are saying. Do a good job of reading their body language and you’ll have a better job of reaching a deal with them.

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

Question For You: Do you think that there is any way to hide your body language from the other side?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When we enter into a negotiation we are always trying to size up the other side. What we want to know is if the position that they are in is a stronger position than we find ourselves in. One of the things that we may take a look at is their current financial strength. We may also try to determine what their best alternative to a negotiated settlement (BANA) is. If we can determine this, then we may be able to determine which way this negotiation is going to go.