THREE Nonverbal Tips for Negotiation

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Negotiation is a concept that is steeped in adversarial attitudes.  No matter how we attempt to be collaborative, the fact that we are in a situation where there is likely to be some difference of interests, can lead to a quick escalation in tension.

Many negotiators tend to focus on the words that are being said, and how to phrase something to persuade or influence the other party, and fail to recognise the power of combining words with a deep understanding of nonverbal cues.

Pay particular attention to what people say, how they say it, and what their body is saying as they are delivering that information.  This can lead to a greater depth of understanding of your negotiating opponent.  Here are 3 tips to help you harness the power of these nonverbal cues.

1. Look for changes in behaviour

The first step is to create a baseline for your negotiating opponent.  People are all different, so you need to ascertain what this person’s baseline is like in a negotiation situation.  This can be done through small talk and some questions designed to orient them to the reason for the meeting.

Once you have established a baseline what we are most interested in are changes in that baseline.  Perhaps previously they made a lot of gestures as they spoke.  Then all of a sudden the gestures stopped.  This is something interesting to note, particularly as to which topic you were discussing when this happened.  It doesn’t tell you what something is thinking, but it does give you an area to circle back on and ask further questions.

2. Notice emblematic slips

Emblems are gestures that can be used in place of words.  These nonverbal gestures have specific symbolic meanings within given cultures, such as a head nod meaning yes in most Western cultures.  Sometimes when people attempt to conceal something they are thinking, emblematic slips occur.  The example which I have witnessed the most in my negotiations is the emblematic slip of the micro head shake when they were saying yes, or the head nod when they were saying no.

These usually occurred after I had asked a question and they had begun to answer.  Their emblematic slip gave away what they were trying to conceal.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to ask a question and then pay attention as they speak, rather than looking down, writing notes, and potentially missing a rich source of data that the other person is conveying nonverbally.

3. A smile or a smirk

One perhaps obvious thing to look for is a subtle sign of joy when you are making your offer, suggesting it is within their range of acceptable outcomes.  For this, you would look for a small smile, but there is another reason a slight smile or smirk may appear on the face during negotiations, and that is called duping delight.  When a person is attempting to lie to us, they may feel a range of emotions about telling the lie (or concealing a lie).  This can range from fear to guilt to delight.  Duping delight was coined by the psychologist and body language expert Dr Paul Ekman and is where the person concealing or lying feels a sense of delight that they are being believed.

A duping delight smirk is usually not appropriate to the circumstances and could be quickly masked.  Pay attention in a negotiation if you see any of these signs, as it could indicate that deception is occurring.

We hope you have found this article useful! For more information on Paul Ekman’s work, we are delighting to offer two of his training courses, details can be found here.



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