Negotiate Successfully by Reading Body Language

Savvy negotiators know that reading body language during a negotiation is essential. Yet, numerous business people fail to read nonverbal messages of their opponents, mainly because they’re not paying enough attention. They have a tendency engage in the things they say and in the documents they present, that they simply overlook these crucial signs.

Negotiation Successfully by Reading Body Language

Start with identifying a baseline

To correctly interpret the body language of your opponent, you first have to determine their normal behavior. If you skip this phase, you’ll probably misread their gestures. “Baselining” involves observing people when they’re not under pressure. You won’t need more than several minutes to see how the person behaves in a stress-free environment. Do this before the negotiation begins (over a cup of coffee for example). While you’re discussing informally, ask several straightforward questions to which you are familiar with the answers in order to observe the behavior of your opponent when they’re relaxed and honest.

Keep an eye on the most important cues

Every successful negotiator knows that engagement, tension, and disengagement, are important signals that they have to observe when it comes to the body language of their counterparts. Engagement actions (head nods, forward leans, eye contact) point out interest and agreement; on the other hand, disengagement actions (leaning back, frowns, looking away) indicate that the individual is uninterested, annoyed, suspicious or even bored. Tension cues (face-touching, firmly crossed ankles and higher vocal tone) are a clear sign of discomfort, which means that your opponent isn’t satisfied with how things are proceeding.

Hunt for gesture clusters

Nonverbal signals generally come about in a “gesture cluster” – a set of movements, actions and even postures that emphasize a certain point of view. For instance, if you notice that your opponent keeps fidgeting, doesn’t look you in the eye and wrings their hands, you can be sure that they’re anxious and intend to leave. It’s recommended to search for three nonverbal cues that highlight the same message. Furthermore, it’s important for you to have power over your own body language if you want to send the right message. Here’s how to control your nonverbal gestures:
negotiation body language

  • Nod your head

A good negotiator knows that he has to nod his head and look his opponent in the eye even when he’s involved in a disagreement or he’s being severely criticized. This nonverbal gesture reduces tension and leads to alignment, so don’t forget to nod your head even when you’re involved in a stressful negotiation.

  • Control your hands

Your hands can indicate when you’re anxious or stressed. When you participate in a negotiation, your hands have to mirror confidence and serenity. If you clasp or fidget your hands, your counterpart will know that you’re worried and will try to take advantage.

  • Relax your body

Sometimes, negotiations are extremely intense, so you have to adopt a relaxed body position in order to diminish the tension. Combine this body position with non-violent remarks. This way, you will gain the trust of your opponent and obtain a better result.

  • Don’t forget to smile

During a negotiation, the atmosphere shouldn’t be too intense. Therefore, it’s very important to smile from time to time and adopt a positive attitude. As a result, you’ll manage to build a lasting relationship between yourself and your counterpart and the negotiation will lead to a successful outcome.

  • Conceal your nerves

When you participate in a negotiation, you can’t fidget. Any gestures that indicate you’re being anxious or worried will demonstrate your opponent that something’s wrong. Don’t touch your face, clasp your hands, or bounce your legs. Your counterpart has to see that you’re calm and self-assured.

negotiation body language

Controlling nonverbal gestures and body language in a negotiation is critical if you want to get a good deal. You can’t win if you can’t concentrate, so try to focus on your goal. You can always use body language to your advantage. This hidden tactic can speak a lot about your opponent. Let them talk and don’t interrupt; watch their behavior attentively, and try to observe twitches that can reveal their true state of mind. Shaky hands, trembling voice, and excessive sweating, are all signs of anxiety; considering you’re an excellent negotiator, you might want to take advantage and close an excellent bargain.

Image credit: Flickr

About William Taylor

Experienced writer William Taylor has extensive knowledge of business strategies and negotiation. His site,, offers negotiation workshops in different languages.