9 Body Language Tricks to Improve Your Negotiation Skills

Never sure what to do with your hands or where to look? Your crossed legs and habit of close-talking could be working against your words.

Strong negotiation skills are hugely advantageous throughout one’s life, from the boardroom to the bar. These skills largely rest on your ability to back up your words with physical actions that exude openness, honesty, and confidence. This fosters trust and increases the other party’s desire to react cooperatively and reach agreement.

According to psychologists and a recent study from language experts Gengo, body language and non-verbal communications has a greater impact in a discussion than the actual words that you say.

More than 55% of messages are conveyed through nonverbal cues like gestures and posture, and studies have shown body language is a more accurate gauge of someone’s true attitudes and intentions than their tone of voice or words. Studies have shown that people are 80% more likely to retain information that was communicated to them both orally and visually.

Gain the edge in negotiations with fantastic non-verbal and body language tips to increase your rate of success and stay way ahead of the game.

1. Show Up On Time

As Woody Allen so aptly put it during his sudden rocketing to stardom with the release of Annie Hall in 1977, "Eighty percent of success is showing up." And it’s true. The very first impression that you’ll make on a new client, potential boss, or corporate adversary occurs before you step into the room or say a word.

Lateness damages the negotiation process in two ways: Firstly, it’s viewed as discourteous (or even insulting) and implies incompetence and lack of integrity on the part of the latecomer, making the other party irritated and less likely to want to reach an agreement. Secondly, the anxiety you’ll no doubt experience at being late will shatter the calm, focused, and confident demeanor that you’ll need to summon if you’re to be successful in the negotiation itself. So give yourself a fighting chance and show up on time.

2. Perfect the Handshake

Alright, you’ve arrived on time—well done! What’s next? The dreaded handshake.

Attesting to the trust-promoting powers of an old-fashioned handshake, legendary Hollywood talent agent and dealmaker Irving Paul "Swifty" Lazar once said, "I have no contract with my clients. Just a handshake is enough."

A great deal has been written over the years on the art of the perfect handshake, but you can forget all of it. The most and, really, only important thing about your handshake is that you have one at all. Researchers at the University of Chicago recently published a group of studies concluding that a handshake (any handshake, even the floppy one from the guy down the hall) makes people feel comfortable, promotes honesty, and increases the cooperative behaviors that lead to deal making.

3. Negotiate with the Right People

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, explains his strategy for success at the poker table as a parallel to business: "I learned that the most important decision I could make was which table to sit at. This included knowing when to change tables."

As much of your ability to set a positive tone for a successful negotiation rests on keeping control of your body language, so does your intuition in responding to the body language and non-verbal cues of your potential opponents before choosing to engage with them. As Mr. Hsieh noted and any poker player will tell you, the outcome of a game is often more than half decided when they make the decision to sit down.

4. Maintain Friendly Eye Contact

Shakespeare, famous with lovers the world over, spoke as much for businessmen, politicians, and poker players when he wrote that "the eyes are the windows of the soul."

Indeed, eye contact is one of the single most powerful communication tools between two people, as it conveys openness, sincerity, and trust.

Avoiding eye contact in a negotiation keeps a good rapport from developing. It gives the other person the feeling that you’re being evasive or dishonest, both of which make negotiating very difficult.

On the other hand, eye contact is so powerful that too much of it can be threatening and seen as aggressive or intimidating. You should keep relatively consistent eye contact, but remember that it’s natural to look away when thinking or processing.

5. Be Aware of Your Facial Expressions

You don’t have to be a business tycoon to be familiar with the often unwelcome effects your unintentional facial expressions can have on the outcome of a discussion. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship has probably experienced the feeling of sheer frustration when their partner stops short in the middle of a conversation and says "What does that look mean?!"

Like it or not, in a negotiation setting your facial expressions will be under that same microscope, so try to make sure that they enhance the positive verbal cues that you’re giving. Take care not to frown or wrinkle your forehead worryingly and take the opportunity to smile and nod in agreement whenever possible. Keep your chin up, evoking positivity, and your eyes level. Remember, the other person will be looking to see that your physical gestures mirror your words—keep them both open and positive.

6. Maintain Personal Space: Proxemics

The science of personal space, otherwise referred to as "proxemics," focuses on the distance between people as they interact. Ever felt incredibly uncomfortable or pressured when a stranger, acquaintance, or co-worker stood a little too close while speaking with you? To the point that you were shuffling your feet and silently willing them further away, no longer paying attention to the conversation?

As you can imagine, such a situation completely disrupts the negotiation process. It’s important for each party to feel that their personal space is being respected and that they’re not being physically intimidated. A safe rule is to sit or stand at least four feet away and study the other person to gauge their comfort level.

7. Keep Your Limbs Calm and Open

Just like you want the words that you’re saying to exude strength, confidence, and calm during a negotiation, so should your body. If you’re constantly tapping your fingers or feet, entwining your hands, or crossing and uncrossing your legs, it will signal that you are in a stressed, rather than thoughtful, state. Keep your legs calm and your hand movements limited to expression rather than fidgeting.

Non-verbal channels are 12.5 times more powerful than communicating interpersonal attitudes and feelings than the verbal channel.

In the same vein, any level of crossed limbs or hands is going to be interpreted as being negative and closed off, which won’t help you to elicit trust in any negotiation. No one wants to talk to someone who seems to have already made up their mind! So uncross your arms and legs and keep some distance between your hands to appear open minded and ready to listen to others' points of view.

8. Hands Down

Speaking of hands—they are incredibly expressive and can add a lot to your communication. When negotiating, the general rule of thumb is to keep your hands away from your face. Rubbing one’s face or head is generally seen as a symptom of anxiety, and anxious is the last thing you want to appear.

Likewise, having your hands over your mouth or eyes signals that you may be in the process of hiding or lying. Appear confident and truthful by keeping your hands away from your face, unclenched, and open as much as you can.

9. Slow Down and Keep Quiet

Everyone, no matter the situation, wants to feel that their input has been heard, respected, and considered before a counter move is made. However, the stress of the negotiation, combined with your excitement and desire to get your point across, can make you jumpy and overenthusiastic, rushing your words or even talking over the other person. Listen closely to the other person, pause for a while to show you are thinking about what they said, and keep your response slow and calm. This conveys respect but confidence in your position.

People remember 10% of information that is provided to them orally and just 20% of information that is provided to them visually. However, 80% of information that is presented to a person both orally and visually is retained, meaning that body language is just as important as being vocal.

Moreover, don’t be afraid to be silent for a short while, sparking the other person’s insecurities. The effects may surprise you. As Lance Murrow advised, "Never forget the power of silence, that massively disconcerting pause which goes on and on and may at last induce an opponent to babble and backtrack nervously."

Full Tilt Poker contributed to the research of this article.

Sally Hall is a practicing hypnotherapist and psychotherapist in Bedfordshire. She is highly qualified in psychiatric and therapeutic techniques and has run a practice for several years. On top of her practice, Sally writes about the impact of her field on everyday life.

[Image: Flickr user Mark Spearman]

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3 Comments

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  • Great article! I work at The Negotiation Institute (www.negotiation.com) and we always look out for great reads like this. Excellent tips. Thanks. Jackie