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Body language secrets of top negotiators

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
Image by US department of agriculture used under creative commons license

Image by US department of agriculture used under creative commons license

Communication isn’t only about carefully crafted words. Negotiations aren’t about arguments and leverage. A good experienced negotiator will marry strong arguments & leverage to carefully practised body language.

There have been dozens of studies and research papers on the power of body language during negotiations. An MIT one measured a negotiator’s ability to convince a jury (body language was accurately measured using a body worn device). It turns out that the right body language can significantly improve the negotiators chances of closing a deal (or convincing a jury in this case). The key takeaways were standing upright, facing the jury and speaking in a lower tone.

So clearly there is something to this body language mumbo-jumbo and it is worth studying and practising. To get you started, here are some tips:

  • While your partner is talking, don’t look down, shuffle papers or mentally start thinking about your next argument. Actively listen to what your partner is saying. Show genuine interest.
  • Try to measure your partner’s general modality and body responses. How do they typically sit. How do they talk (modality). How much eye contact do they typically make. How much do they move around. Do your homework and prepare. Know the baseline body language cues of your partner and you will be able to spot variations. You can also use this information to mirror them and more easily build rapport.
  • Look for gesture clusters. Some movements are nothing too complex but sometimes a person will exhibit a series of body gestures together that happen during specific situations. As an example, maybe your partner crosses his arms regularly and you shouldn’t read too much into this. But if he crosses his arms, taps his foot and does XYZ then it means ABC. Look for these cluster gestures, try to figure out what they mean and record it for future negotiations.
  • Last but not least, feet. Look at the feet. They can show impatience, boredom, etc. If you want to come across as strong and trustworthy, feet your feet still.