Thursday, July 14, 2011

Body Language

Should You Attempt to Read and Use Body Language in Negotiations?

In every negotiation there are two forms of communication that occur, what we say and how we act or react. How we act or react is expressed by what’s called “non-verbals” which are also referred to as body language. Proponents of reading body language think it’s a way that you can see what the other person is thinking.

In writing about body language the argument is that how we react with body language during a negotiation will tell about what we are really thinking. In books and articles on body language they will describe signs that tell you that a person is listening and understanding what you are saying. There are negative signs that a person is not agreeing or is defensive. There can be signs showing the level of agreement or disagreement. There can also be signs of deceit.

If you want to read about body language, one of the best books is called “How to Read a Person Lake a Book: Observing Body Language to Know What People Are Thinking”.  The book was  written by Gerald I. Nierenberger, Henry H. Calero and Gabriel Grayson and available on

In many of the on line negotiation forums a number of people recommend that negotiations should always be face to face just so you can read the body language of your opponent. I’m not all that convinced of the importance of reading body language. If you are dealing with a novice negotiator who may never have read about body language, or someone on the negotiator’s team who may also not be aware of it, being able to read someone’s body language may help in the negotiation. In that instance it would be worth learning and face to face negotiations would be helpful.

When it may not be helpful and I the one caution I have about using body language is in situations where you are dealing with highly skilled negotiators. Skilled negotiators will control their actions and emotions just like a poker player. They may also use body language to convey the opposite of what they really feel. For example they could use body language to send negative signs when they may not be in disagreement or when they aren’t defensive to try to simply try to drive additional concessions. They may gasp in shock and surprise when they are neither shocked nor surprised. With skilled negotiators the problem you have is some reactions may be real and some may be play-acting. It can be difficult to sort out which is which.

Being able to read body language is a good tool to learn as a negotiator. You just need to remember that its not going to be 100% accurate.

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