Silent Signals: Observing Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Cues - Body Language Secrets to Win More Negotiations - Greg Williams, Pat Iyer

Body Language Secrets to Win More Negotiations - Greg Williams, Pat Iyer (2016)

Chapter 1. Silent Signals: Observing Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Cues

Director of Purchasing Sharma Modi quietly observed the vendor sitting in front of him. Bill Walters was asking Sharma to make a significant investment in his products. Sharma observed Bill’s body language. Bill shifted in his seat every few minutes. His hands trembled when he reached for his coffee cup. There was a thin sheen of perspiration on his face. Sharma said, “Bill, I have a feeling this sale means a lot to you.” “Oh no,” Bill replied. “We have plenty of business.” After thinking about what he observed, Sharma made an offer that was substantially less than what Bill requested. Bill hesitated and then said, “Fine, let’s do the deal.”

In this situation, Sharma noted Bill’s signs of anxiety. Even though Bill actually stated that, “Oh no, we have plenty of business,” that was likely not the case based on his body language. Bill truly did need the business. Sharma revised the offer based on that knowledge. In this chapter, you’ll discover how to use what you sense and see in a negotiation based on the body language that you discern.

Body Language as Nonverbal Communication

Body language can be verbal and nonverbal. Nonverbal verbal communication is expressed through your voice, such as clearing your throat. You could be saying, “I’m getting choked up possibly.” Your body tries to adapt to your environment, and it makes corrections and sends signals based on how you feel. That’s one reason why you should always be aware of body language signals.

There are countless forms of nonverbal communication:

✵ head movement

✵ rubbing eye, fingers, hands, arm, or leg

✵ shifting of body, shuffling or tapping feet

✵ swinging leg when sitting, drumming fingers

✵ gesturing with hand toward or moving away

✵ smiling

✵ frowning

✵ scowling

Studies indicate that up to 90 percent of communication is actually transmitted via body language. Words comprise only 10% of communication. Other people observe the subtleties that your body language conveys, and thus 90% is a huge percentage of the communication process. Everyone should be astute about body language signals. You may be saying something that happens to be exactly opposite to what you really believe. Your body language will betray you. If your body language is sending a different signal, your message will be diluted simply because the body language is out of sync with what you are saying.

You are more aware of body language than you might realize. A lot of times we will talk about how we felt a certain sensation as a result of interacting with someone. We are sensing but are not truly conscious of the body language signals being projected. Also, you will hear nonverbal clues when you speak to someone over the phone. Even if you’re reading, you can pick up inflections based on words and tone of the writing.

Body Language from Head to Toe

Pay attention to what people do with their hands, arms, feet, mouth, and head to become better at sensing body language. Their gestures will give you insight. I’d like you to imagine that you’re standing in front of Bill, with whom you are negotiating. I am going to take you on a guided tour of what you should observe about him.

Expressing body language with the head

Someone’s head gestures will definitely give you insight into what he is thinking. Tilting his head could mean that he is deliberating. It could also convey that Bill is inquisitive or in the process of trying to back away from something that has been said.

Eye movements signal thought processes. Most people will tend to look up and to the left when they are trying to recall something that has occurred in the past. You can test this by observing the person’s reaction to a neutral comment. You might say something like, “We had good weather yesterday. Do you remember what the weather was like last week at this time?” Observe which direction the person looks. If he looks up and to the left, he’s trying to recall. If he looks up and to the right, he could be doing the exact same thing. By establishing his baseline (i.e., which direction he looks to retrieve information), you’re able to discern what the act means to him.

This reaction means you need to go further by asking another question. Ask another neutral question, such as about another experience you shared. “Do you remember when (a specific thing) happened?” Observe how Bill moves his eyes to recall the information based on your question.

When Bill looks up and to the left, you know that he is trying to recall what he actually experienced. You get the insight that more than likely this person looks up and to the left to recall information. If he is trying to remember a sound, he will tend to look directly to the left. If he is trying to think about something that’s an auditory signal and he is contemplating what that was, he will tend to look down and to the left. Establish his baseline by asking different questions at different times.

Suppose you are talking to Bill about something that relates to emotion. Note what he does with his eyes. A person who is trying to get in touch with his emotions will look down and to the right. That’s so important to observe when you’re at the negotiation table because that will give you the insight as to how someone truly feels about an offer, a counter offer, and so on.

A person who looks directly to the right may be trying to think of a sound he has not heard before. As an example, if I said, “Imagine if a cow and a chicken were combined. What sound would it make?” Bill might tend to look to the right because he is trying to construct the sound.

Suppose he looks up and to the right. He is visually trying to create an image or a thought in his mind. You say something along the lines of, “What do you think the weather might be like next week based on what it’s been like the last few days?” Watch Bill look up and to the right to try to answer that question.

I used the weather as an example, but you can observe the same thing from a negotiation perspective. Now that you have established the baseline by which Bill uses his eyes, you can then decipher to what degree he is being truthful. Ask, “Is this the best offer that you can make?” Note the direction in which he moves his eyes. Let’s say he looks up and to the right. He is actually trying to construct whether or not it is the best offer.

Take it a step further. Begin your sentence with, “I understand in the past… .” Notice you’re already given a subtle sense of direction. “I understand in the past that only 75% of your products passed the initial quality control check.” Based on what you have already observed about his eye movements, you know that Bill should be looking up and to the left to recall what has occurred in the past. Instead, you watch him look up and to the right. Now you know that likely he is in the process of creating a response that may not be as accurate as he wants you to believe. You’ve gained insight just from watching his eye movements. Refer to Figure 1.

Be aware of head movement in combination with what Bill says. As he says, “No, that’s not true,” he is nodding his head forward. This is a negotiation principle that I will return to again: When there is a conflict between what someone says and what his body language reveals, always believe the body language. The body does not lie. It attempts to act per what it believes to be the truth.

While you are talking to Bill you notice that one end of his mouth is curled upward. That is a sign of contempt. He may be saying with that movement, “How dare you try to put me on the spot. Don’t try to catch me like that.” If he is astute at reading body language, he may also be saying, “I know exactly what you are trying to do and it’s not going to work here.”

Bill smiles as he’s delivering his rebuttal or reply to your question. At the same time, with the smile on his face, he leans back and put his hands behind his head. He is indicating with that body positioning and smile, “Okay, that’s a good question. Nice try, buddy.” He’s literally moving away from the question, indicating that maybe you do know something or have hit a sensitive negotiating point that he would rather avoid.


Bill’s hands on the back of his head are intended to tell you that he is in control of this situation. Leaning away from the question could mean he is stalling for time before he responds. Be attentive to the tone of what he says next. Suppose he says, “I’m not exactly sure that’s a valid statement.” Here, he is questioning the validity. Contrast that position with a different response: Bill says, “That’s definitely not true.” That is an emphatic statement.

Watch for clusters of gestures

Look for clusters of body language signals to confirm Bill’s negotiating stance. Let’s say instead of having a smile on his face he had a frown. He displayed with a frown the disdain that he had for you even posing such a question. “You don’t know what you’re talking about” could also be the implied meaning. Observe if he moves away from you, if he moves toward you, if he has a smile on his face, if he’s frowning, if one corner of his lip is actually turned up displaying contempt, or if by chance he leans forward as he’s talking.

Imagine Bill sitting at his desk. He has his hands folded on his desk as he leans forward, smiles, and says, “That’s definitely not true. The most recent study showed that 95% of our products passed the initial quality control check.” His hands tell you he has patience. Leaning forward tells you he confidently thinks he is in control as he confronts you or your negotiating strategy face-to-face.

The reason I’m highlighting what Bill feels is because we sometimes say, “He lied” in a situation when the data that he cited were inaccurate. In reality, that does not have to be the case even though his body language was aligned with everything that he said. Instead, he truly may not have known the answer but thought that he was telling the truth. Based on your own knowledge of the data, you might respond by saying, “Your quality control manager issued a report this year that showed the actual results were 75%.” Watch Bill’s body language as he responds to your statement.

There are a host of nonverbal and verbal signals. Knowing what to watch for will give you great insight into the thought process of the opposing negotiator. With such information, you’ll understand to what degree his offers and counteroffers are positional. Do they set the stage for future offers/counteroffers or are they immediate reactions, such as “I better accept this offer, or I could run the risk of losing the deal”? Thus, you’ll enhance your negotiation efforts and be more successful as a result of your astuteness in deciphering verbal and nonverbal signals.

How the arms convey meaning

You’ve learned about eye movements, head gestures, smiles, and frowns. When Bill has his arms apart, he is displaying the fact that he is really open to what it is that you and he are discussing.

Sometimes you’ll see people with crossed arms. Don’t be misled by this. People who are not astute at discerning body language will say, “Oh, that person’s crossed arms mean that he is not receptive; he is not open.” That could be the case, but remember what I said about always first establishing a foundation for how someone uses his body in situations before you start making assumptions about what one gesture means. You truly cannot reach conclusions about his demeanor from one gesture. You need to seek out the meaning from clusters of body language gestures.

As you progress in your negotiations, you observe that Bill has his arms crossed sitting opposite from you and has one leg over the other. That is more of a confirmation that he is a little closed minded and is not thinking as openly as you would like. It’s an example of a cluster of gestures with both arms and legs crossed.

Because of their anatomy, women tend to cross their arms more than men. Crossing the arms could have several meanings:

✵ Fatigue

✵ Feeling cold

✵ Trying to get more comfortable

✵ Satisfaction with a point just won

✵ Agreement with you

Note the timing of when the person crosses his arms. If Bill crossed his arms again when a point is favorable to him, you then know Bill uses that gesture to indicate satisfaction as opposed to dissatisfaction. Observe how the person uses that gesture to determine its meaning.

Hands convey meaning

As people speak, observe if they have their palms up, indicating that they are receptive to you. Now, here’s where words and body language may conflict. Suppose Bill says to you with his palms down, “I think this offer is going to be really good for you, and I think you should accept it.” That’s an incongruent message: While Bill says it is good for you, he is pushing his palms toward the floor, which conveys, “No, I don’t really think it’s good for you. It may be more advantageous for me.” That’s yet another gesture to be observant of as far as how someone uses his hands.

A good negotiator may say to you as you make your offer to him, “I think that may be a good offer for me.” His hands are palms down. Consider that he may intentionally be telling you that he is not really sure if it is a good offer. He is leading you to believe that right now, but he is planning to come back and test that offer somewhere down the line.

There are so many nuances that occur when a person uses gestures. Make a conscious effort to watch your opponent’s gestures to look for patterns of their use. Gestures may be related to a particular timeframe of the negotiation and be associated with clusters of other nonverbal body language. They can lead you to make some assumptions that you can test during the negotiation.

Pulling one hand back as you’re speaking gives emphasis to the hand with which you are gesturing. Bill has his right palm up and his arm is back. His left hand is out and his palm is down. He says, “This is going to be the best deal that you can get. I would suggest that you take it.” Bill’s body language is conveying that by holding that right hand back with the palm up there may be more you can gain. His left hand extended with the palm down is indicating to you, “Actually, I want you to think this is the best deal,” but the mixed message leads you to the insight that there may be more for you to gain.

Be aware that different gestures made by arms and hands convey a great deal of meaning. Properly interpreted, they reveal thought processes that can affect the negotiation.


Let’s say Bill places one hand on top of yours. You may perceive the message from Bill as, “I’m superior to you. I’m hands up on you.” You may feel patronized. That does not necessarily have to be a bad thing for you. In response, you might think to yourself, “You can feel superior to me but watch out. That will change.” You may decide to display a completely different body language signal to take charge of the negotiation, which might throw Bill off course. When you note how the other negotiator shakes hands, you will get insight into what that negotiator might be thinking. Even from the handshake and the moment the negotiation process officially starts, you will get clues about Bill.

Note the firmness of a handshake. A hard handshake can convey, “Don’t mess with me.” A hard handshake can also be an overcompensation from a person who is weaker but does not want you to observe that he is weaker. Bill may be thinking, “I need this deal so badly. I have got to come away with this deal, but I can’t show weakness.” He overcompensates for that thought with a very hard handshake.

Here’s what you can do when you receive a hard handshake. Offer to shake hands several times and see what happens with that handshake. If it moderates in any way, think about what is really occurring as to why the handshake has altered.

An initial handshake can be hard, soft, or limp. Does it change during the negotiation? By observing the degree it’s altered, you’ll gain insight into the opposing negotiator’s mind-set. If you note other body language gestures (cluster of gestures) leading up to that point, you should be able to confirm his change in perspective and why it occurred. The combination of gestures will give you a sense of the direction of the other negotiator.

Using the Hand to Touch the Other Negotiator

There are certain safe parts of the body that are typically touched during a negotiation: the shoulder or elbow.

Hand on the shoulder

A person putting her hand on someone’s shoulder could be indicating that she is feeling superior. You should always maintain a healthy perspective about your negotiation abilities and that of the other negotiator. Don’t allow the perception of size to serve as a detriment in your negotiation efforts. For example, if you are shorter than the opposing negotiator, you can compensate for it by standing closer. You will send a subliminal message that you are not afraid to be in the other negotiator’s space. If you wish not to send such a message, you can stand slightly farther away, which wouldn’t amplify the height difference if you stood closer.

Touching the shoulder also may be done to comfort the other person: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of this and make sure you get the best deal possible.” Also, it can be a gesture of comfort, so you have to understand when it occurs as to why it’s occurring. It can be a sincere gesture.

Hand on the elbow

Take note when Bill shakes your hand if he places a hand on your elbow. What that implies is extra control. While he has his hand on your elbow and shakes your hand, he can literally move your body. He could apply pressure on the elbow with his fingers and thumb to actually make you feel a sense of slight excitement or discomfort.

Imagine Bill is shaking your hand, and saying, “Don’t worry about this. I’m going to make sure everything is controlled to the degree that you feel safe.” While he says this, he applies a slight bit of pressure on your elbow; you may not even notice it. You will have the thought, “Yes, I don’t have anything to be worried about” because he’s shaking your hand while saying so, and he’s literally controlling you with the soft touch that he’s applying to your elbow.

Here’s a countering strategy when you notice your elbow being touched in connection with a handshake. Show that you are as much in control as your opponent by putting your hand on his elbow. Observe what he does at that time. This cluster of gestures will display the mind-set more accurately as to what the other negotiator thinks in that particular situation than one gesture by itself.

Legs and Posture

Think about the last time you saw a person jiggling his leg. This is a sign of discomfort or anxiety. A person who sways as he stands may also be expressing discomfort. The swaying motion is an attempt to comfort himself. The significance of a comfort gesture depends on when it occurs in the negotiation, what has preceded it, and what gestures follow. The other negotiator may be making the gesture when the mood is light and everyone is in agreement with what’s been discussed. She displays a comfort gestures which more than likely in that situation indicates she’s comfortable. Contrast that with her in a confrontational environment; she feels threatened. She begins to rub her arm. In that case she’s displaying a gesture to reduce the anxiety she’s experiencing.

Imagine that Bill is seated across from you with one leg crossed over the other. A crossed leg could be a comfort gesture, meaning he is very comfortable with what it is that he is discussing with you or it could be a sign of discomfort. One way to discern the intent of Bill’s body language is to note the degree your gestures match. If Bill has his right leg crossed and you have your right leg crossed, you are more aligned than would otherwise be the case. The two of you are really saying through your body language that you are in sync with one another. If by chance you uncross your right leg and he uncrosses his right leg, you’re literally leading Bill. It means he is really in alignment with you to the point that he feels comfortable with the offer you’ve made, the proposal you’ve described, and the direction in which the negotiation is going.

Let’s consider a situation in which Bill has his right leg crossed and your left leg is crossed. Your body language reveals that you are out of sync with one another.

Ankles and feet

Let’s move down to the ankles and the feet. While Bill is seated, he is moving his leg around and around or forward and backward. He could indicate with that gesture that he is starting to get a little tired with the negotiation process. It can indicate, “Okay let’s move it on.”

To see exactly to what degree Bill may be getting tired or why a particular gesture is being used at that time, say something like, “I know a little something about body language. I thought moving your ankle and foot is a sign of anxiety.” This is a negotiation ploy to get the other person to notice what he is doing and to think about why he is doing it. You can ask him to tell you what it means, then observe what happens next: Does he continue to move his foot around? At what point does he continue to move his foot around?

Now imagine you are talking to Bill while standing and facing him. Look at the position of his feet. Bill is more engaged in this discussion when your feet are aligned with each other. He is showing you he feels like he is on even ground. From a negotiation perspective things are progressing quite well.

Always observe someone’s feet movement, be it one foot or the other even though you’re looking him directly in the eye. You can still take note of what he is doing with his feet as you are engaged in the conversation. Let’s say as you are discussing an aspect of the negotiation you happen to notice that Bill’s foot turns away from you or points slightly in a different direction than it was when your feet were evenly aligned with each other. That positioning could indicate that Bill is growing weary. You should assess if it is from physical or mental fatigue. While you take note of when it happened, you don’t have to necessarily draw attention to it. What that can also imply is Bill is letting you know he does not like your offer. Your feet, just like his perception of the deal, are now out of alignment.

You can do several things at that point. Reposition yourself as you’re speaking to realign your feet with the other negotiator and then watch what he does with his left or right foot. If as you’re talking he keeps it in alignment with your foot, he’s signaling through his body language that he’s reacting positively to what you’re saying.

Suppose Bill moves his feet so that his left foot is aligned with your right foot, but his right foot is pointing in between your feet. Bill is saying he has come into agreement with you. Watch what he does with his feet as you make more proposals, because then you pinpoint his mind-set. The feet are very important in a negotiation; they give you a lot of insight into the thought process of your opponent.

Feet positioning can be part of a cluster of gestures that reveal stalling tactics. With his feet still aligned. Bill puts his right fingers up to his forehead, left hand on his hip, and starts rubbing his forehead. Although his feet are still aligned, his body language reveals this message: “I think I’m ready to conclude this deal. But I’m thinking about something else that you said and possibly trying to see how that’s going to be more beneficial to you or me. Am I willing to allow that to be the case?” After Bill goes through that series of calculations, if his foot turns away from you, you are seeing his manifestation of indecisiveness with the proposal. Be astutely aware of all of those gestures and clusters of gestures. They will indicate more accurately the other negotiator’s thoughts.


Think about how people interact with each other when hugging. What significance can we draw from those nonverbal messages?

A man approaches a woman and he starts to hug her. She allows him to hug her in a full-body embrace. That’s one sign of being more welcoming, receptive, and open. Let’s also use the situation where the man begins to hug the woman and she’s lukewarm about literally how close she allows him to get.That’s saying, “Hey buddy, there are boundaries and I want you to observe them.”

Let’s turn the situation around. The woman embraces the man with a full-body frontal hug and the man is a little lukewarm with his response. That implies, “You’re a little bit too forward, and I’m a little apprehensive.” You would think the exact opposite would be true in a male, but that signal is sending a specific message: “I feel a little discomfort as the result of you giving me that full frontal body hug.”

Consider the next part of this. Let’s say the male also is embracing the woman in a full frontal body hug. That could be conveying, “I accept you as an equal. You’re not going to take over any of my territory. I will not take over any of yours. We’re equals.”

Concealment of Body Language

Knowing what you do about body language, you may make a deliberate attempt to conceal your reactions. Some people train themselves to mute their reactions. Health care professionals, as an example, are taught to maintain poker faces in the midst of some disturbing situations. That training can result in a pattern of controlling body language so as to not convey meaning to other people.

Similarly, skilled negotiators may make deliberate efforts to not react in any way. Imagine you detect that Bill is concealing, controlling, or muting his reactions in the midst of a negotiation. One approach is to confront him: “I’m just curious. You seem not to be emitting any emotion to anything I’m saying. Am I getting through to you?”

Watch how Bill reacts. He may lower his eyes and admit, “Yes, you’re getting through to me.” He still hasn’t given you any real insight. But suppose he holds his head up, looks at you with a smile on his face, and acknowledges, “I’m listening very carefully to you.” You might say something such as, “I’m glad you said that because I just wanted to make sure you’re still here.” “I’m definitely still here,” Bill replies. See what the person does with his body language then.

Sometimes people conceal their body language because they know the person with whom they’re negotiating will be able to decipher nonverbal signals that will be used in the negotiation. Even though they try to conceal their reactions, the body always attempts to be truthful. Our bodies will emit signals unbeknownst to us at times, even if we try to hold back signals. The body will naturally do things that are in alignment with what we believe to be true.

In addition to outright asking the other negotiator about the lack of body gestures, consider trying to change the whole atmosphere. If it’s very somber, tell a joke and see what happens. Do something that may be considered outrageous. Watch the other negotiator’s body language as you do so.

Low-Energy Body Language

A person who is either trying to conceal body language or displays low energy uses little facial expressions or body movements. Observe Bill for these clues:

✵ Bill’s gestures are not aligned with what he is saying.

✵ He holds his arms and hands closer to his body.

✵ He does not make eye contact.

✵ His gestures lack force or emphasis.

✵ His voice is soft and slow.

Body language displays your reactions to the negotiator’s strategies, offers, and counteroffers. By using it appropriately in a negotiation, you’re also displaying to the other negotiator the degree of control you have.

There’s a myth that the first person who speaks in a negotiation loses. That’s not necessarily true. There are all kinds of variables that are involved in that scenario that dictate to what degree he who speaks first loses. One negotiator may be significantly better at reading body language or more astute when it comes to negotiation tactics. He may suspect the opponent thinks the person who speaks first loses—and may intentionally do just that.

Two negotiators were sitting across from one another and neither would say a word. That went on for several hours. One negotiator wrote on a piece of paper and slid it over to the other negotiator. It read, “You can speak and I’ll still think that you’re a winner.” The other negotiator started laughing. You can do something to break the monotony. You can do something that will alter the perspective of what’s occurring when someone is trying to conceal his body language gestures and see what he does with his body language then.

Controlling Hands

Imagine that you’re sitting at the negotiation table and Bill is literally sitting on his hands such as not to give away hand gestures. What does that tell you about his body language? He’s intentionally trying to conceal the hands so you don’t get insight. You can ask something along the lines of, “I noticed the watch that you have on. It is very nice. May I take a look at it?” Bill will literally give you his arm or wrist. Now watch what he does next. Does he put his hand on the table? Do his hands go back to the seat?

There is a reason Bill is concealing his hands. You can just ask outright why: “Just out of curiosity, I am not seeing you use much body language. I wonder what is going through your mind. I’m always in a learning state.”

If you place yourself for the moment in a subservient position, you can gain insight based on what the person does as he conceals his body language. What are his motives? For example, consider the physician who has to deliver bad news. You may notice that he’ll put a hand on the shoulder of the person to whom he is speaking and say something like, “Don’t worry about this. We’re going to take good care of your father.” There’s that body language gesture again. He may say something along the lines of “He is unstable and I’m being straightforward with you. His prognosis is poor.” Now if he were to say something like that, you would realize he is telling you something serious, and he even feels uncomfortable getting so close to you and the message that he’s delivering.

Use your observation of the concealment of body language to evaluate the person’s demeanor. Note how long the concealment actually lasts, what triggered it, and when it stops. Are your attempts successful to get Bill to be more open?

Exaggerated Body Language

Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum when people are displaying either high energy or distress. Earlier I gave you the example of a person who jiggles a knee or a leg, which may be conveying a certain level of internal distress and trying to use that gesture to comfort himself. There are other signals that would indicate either distress or high energy and excitement.

When Bill is in distress, you will see exactly how agitated he is based on his speech patterns. Listen for rapid, pressured speech. The words tumble over each other. Bill does not pause between sentences. You can also discern the level of distress because you’re watching his hand movements. They are synchronized with the energy he is projecting. Bill’s hand movements generate even more energy as he speaks. Note what Bill does with his hands and watch for him to move his hands in synchrony with his speech. Imagine him holding his dominant hand perpendicular to the floor, moving it up and down with each word he says: “I—told—you—they—will—never—go—for—that—offer!” This body language shows Bill is in sync with what he is saying and the emotion he is feeling.

Suppose Bill says, “That’s the worst deal I’ve ever heard in my life. I don’t know where in the world you came up with those accusations and would even dare to make such an offer to me!” What does he convey with his body language? Is there synchrony between his statements, and hand and leg movements?

Bill says, “I hate this offer!” You’d expect to see him make a fist or move his hand downward as he literally “puts down the offer.” He might spread his fingers and push the offer away with his hand to ward it off. These gestures are in synchrony with his feelings. The further away from the body the hand movement was, the greater he is displaying his dislike of the offer.

When Bill says, “I hate this” and does not move his hand down at the same time that he is ending on the word “this,” you might question his statement. He may be using a ploy to exaggerate his response.

Bill could be truly appalled by the offer or he could also be showing high energy as a negotiating ploy to attempt to get you to change the terms of the offer.

With some negotiators, the display of distress appeals to their nurturing needs. Always remember no matter what people do, their motivation is to use a technique that is beneficial to their self-interest. If you’re negotiating with someone who reveals this motivation, it may enhance your position to portray someone in distress. Be careful when you display distress. It may tempt an aggressive negotiator to attack you. Also, be on guard—the opponent could be using this display as a ploy.

Just like the display of distress can be used as an enhancer or detractor, the same is true when displaying high levels of energy. The calculation of when to display distress or high energy should first be considered in relation to the person with whom you’re negotiating.

In Summary

Let’s return to the situation at the beginning of this chapter when we found Bill talking with Sharma about buying his products. This is what Sharma observed in Bill:

✵ He was shifting in his seat every few minutes.

✵ His hands trembled.

✵ There was a thin sheen of perspiration on his face.

Sharma said, “Bill, I have a feeling that this sale means a lot to you.” Although Bill denied this, he was immediately ready to make a deal. Sharma was successful because he focused on Bill’s signs of distress and used that information in the negotiation.

The shifting in the seat indicated that Bill was actually uncomfortable. Your body always attempts to be truthful and will emit signals. In this case, with the sheen on Bill’s forehead, his body was literally saying, “I’m getting hot” because he was having a physical reaction to the fact that he was lying and that came through. Bill’s trembling hands showed he was nervous—his body reacted as he tried to deceive Sharma.

You can sense when a person is being honest or attempting to be dishonest. A good negotiator who knows how to use body language can attempt to control some of his gestures, but his body may reveal the truth of how he really feels. Just trying to prevent your hands from trembling can make them shake.

Bill gave away his position via his body language with the trembling of his hands, the sheen on his forehead, and the shifting in his seat to indicate that he was uncomfortable. Sharma’s astuteness at reading body language led him to naturally make a lower offer. He could have raised the offer, but he sensed Bill really did need the business much more than he was indicating; Sharma got a better deal. Therein lies how being able to really understand and use body language can improve your position in any negotiation.