When Negotiating, Look For
Your mother probably taught you that it’s rude to stare. But when you negotiate a
business deal, close observation of your opponent makes sense.
By inspecting your opponent’s every physical move, you can often determine
whether he or she is holding something back or not telling the truth.
The key is not to stare so much that you make your opponent uncomfortable, but to
be aware of his or her movements through casual glances and friendly eye contact.
It will almost certainly give you an edge.
What should you look for? Experts who study body language suggest a two-step
process. First, identify a subject’s mannerisms during the initial, friendly stages of a
discussion. As the negotiation unfolds, see whether your opponent suddenly adopts
different behavior. “You have to watch people a long time to establish what their
baseline mode is,” said David Hayano, author of “Poker Faces.” “Once you know
how they normally behave, you may be able to tell when they start to put on an act.”
Hayano is a retired professor of anthropology at California State University at
Northridge, who has analyzed the body language of poker players, and he’s found
that the rapport-building stage is a valuable time to study your opponent. Why?
Because that’s when you get to know someone’s “natural” behavior. “If you are
dealing with a very talkative executive who all of a sudden gets meek during the
heat of the negotiation, then something strange is going on,” he said. It may be a
clue that your opponent is hiding something; other clues are exaggerated
movements or excessive enthusiasm.
Hayano says that in poker, for example, a player who throws chips forcefully on the
table or suddenly behaves in a brash, aggressive way may be masking his being
stuck with a weak hand of cards. The same goes for executives who loudly and
repeatedly proclaim that they’re making a major concession, when in fact they’re
not giving up much. “When you’re negotiating with someone who starts overtalking
and backslapping, this can mean they really have little to offer,” Hayano said.
A range of nonverbal clues may serve as red flags during a negotiation. Experts
suggest paying special attention to a person’s hands and face. “There are many
revealing body signals that may indicate a hidden agenda,” said Donald Moine, an
organizational psychologist at the Association for
Human Achievement in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif. Examples include hair pulling,
lip biting, eye blinking, gulping and throat clearing. According to Moine, a
negotiator who starts breathing rapidly may not be telling the truth. “The way to tell how someone is breathing is to notice their shoulders,” he said. “With more
rapid breathing that’s higher up in the chest, you will see their shoulders rise and
fall a lot more than normal.” When coaching executives to improve their negotiation
skills, Moine finds that many of them miss opportunities to read others’ body
language. “They often make the mistake of looking down at papers instead of being
observant,” he said. The next time your opponent gestures for you to study a
document or presents a written contract for you to scrutinize, don’t fall for the bait.
Instead of cutting off eye contact, Moine suggests that you say, “Tell me about it.
What does it say?” As long as you keep your eyes on your negotiating partners, you
can assess whether their nonverbal behavior conflicts with what they tell you.
Even the most experienced deal makers who know how to mask their expressions
may still betray themselves with their bodies. “Watch for signs of deception,” said
Raymond McGraime, author of “Silent Seduction.” “Deception is shown by such
movements as covering of the mouth with the hands, rubbing the side of the nose,
jerking the head quickly to the side, and leaning away from you. If these things
occur when they’re saying something critical to the negotiation, that’s even more
significant.” Although these behaviors may simply result from nervous tics,
McGraime warns that they can also expose a liar.
“When most people lie, they subconsciously want to apologize for it,” he said. “They
feel guilty for lying, and that shows in their nonverbal behavior.” On a more
positive note, body language can sometimes help you trust a speaker. Look for
expansive, welcoming gestures that seem to flow naturally from the person’s
behavior. “When someone opens his palms towards simultaneously, that’s a sign of
openness and honesty,” McGraime said. “The further the palms come out from
their body, the better. In depictions of the great prophets, you see this. It’s like
saying, ‘I have nothing up my sleeve.'”
Now that you know what to look for while negotiating, beware of attributing too
much meaning to every little move your opponent makes. Resist drawing rash
conclusions based on someone who suddenly starts scratching or acting jittery. “The
danger of reading your opponent is that you lean too much on just one sign,” said
Richard Heslin, professor of psychology at Purdue University in West Lafayette,
Ind. “But when you can put several things togethe r, maybe there’s something there
that’s worth paying attention to.”
Our body says a lot about us in many ways as we communicate. Body movement can
indicate attitudes, and feelings while also acting as illustrators and regulators. Our
body movement includes the heads, eyes, shoulders, lips, eyebrows, neck, legs, arms,
fingers, orientation, hands and gestures. Together these pieces can convey if we’re
comfortable, unhappy, friendly, anxious, nervous and many other messages.
With so many parts conveying messages, you can see how easily things can get
confused and how difficult it is to manipulate nonverbal communication. Just think
of the different messages which are communicated through facing a person,
touching, standing at various distances and in different stances. With careful
thought, however, we may begin using our bodies to further our clarity and
This discussion has broken down body language into several areas: proxemics,
appearance, eye contact, and physical behavior. We will continue by looking at each
Proxemics is the amount of space around or between us and others. How closely
people position themselves to a person during a discussion communicates what type
of relationship exists between the two people. This space and meaning differs from
culture to culture but in American culture the following standards exist.
· 0-18 inches is intimate space reserved for family and close friends
· 18 inches to 4 feet is personal space used in most interpersonal interactions
· 4-12 feet is social-consultative space used in more formal interactions
Appearance is a second important factor involved with nonverbal communication .
In today’s society, the purpose of clothing has changed from fulfilling a need to
expressing oneself. Teens use fashion to determine cliques such as prep, jock, punk,
or gangster. Clothing communication is continued later in life by identifying
someone in a suit as a businessperson, someone wearing a black robe as a judge,
doctors wearing lab coats and stethoscopes or various other positions wearing
required uniforms of dress. Adornments are another form of appearance. Wearing
expensive jewelry communicates one message while wearing ceremonial ornaments
communicates a completely different message. Appearance also takes into account
personal grooming such as cleanliness, doing one’s hair, nail trimming or wearing
Overall appearance is the nonverbal that people are most aware of and manipulate
the most. Appearance communicates how we feel and how we want to be viewed.
Many sayings hold that the eye is the window to the mind. This is very true to
illustrating the power of eye contact in nonverbal communication. Eye contact can
maintain, yield, deny and request communication between people. People who use
eye contact are viewed as confident, credible and having nothing to hide.
Some important do’s and do not’s of eye contact are:
· If you have trouble staring someone in the eye, simply focus at something on
· When speaking to a group look at everyone
· Look at people who are key decision makers or hold power
· Look at reactive listeners
· Don’t look at the floor, scripts or anything that causes you to tilt your head
away form the receiver
· Don’t look at bad listeners that may distract you
As mentioned earlier, there are many parts of your body that add to the nonverbal
message. This type of nonverbal communication is called kinesic code. It is made up
of emblems, illustrators, regulators, affect displays and adapters. These behaviors
are each communicated in different behaviors and movements of your body.
The first important aspect of kinesics is posture. Standing or sitting in a relaxed
professional manner is a positive posture nonverbal. Also, being comfortably
upright, squarely facing an audience, and evenly distributing your weight are all
aspects of posture that communicate professionalism, confidence, attention to detail
Nonverbals communicated by moving the trunk of your body are called body
gestures. Several different body gesture strategies are to move to change mood or
pace, draw attention, or reinforce and idea. Some examples are stepping aside for a
transition or stepping forward to emphasize a point.
Hand gestures are what are most often ide ntified as nonverbal communication. One
reason is because they are so obvious to a receiver and seen to be partly conscious. It
is important to let your gestures flow naturally as if in conversation with a close
friend. You may also use gestures to specifically describe shape and size, emphasize
a point, enumerate a list, or picking out a specific item.
In conjunction with hand gestures is touching. This is a very powerful
communicator especially for establishing a link to a receiver or conveying emotion.
However, touching is dangerous because it invades a persons intimate space and
may be perceived as unwanted or breaking norms. It is important to pay attention
to the other person’s nonverbal cues before deciding to initiate a touch.
The last area of physical nonverbal communication is facial expression. Facial
expression is partly innate and also partly learned. Because of the number of
muscles and features, such as mouth, nose, lips, cheeks, in your face, it is extremely
expressive. A face can ask questions, show doubt, surprise, sadness, happiness and a
wealth of other messages.
Below is a list of some body behavior and the message they communicate.
1) Slumped posture = low spirits
2) Erect posture = high spirits, energy and confidence
3) Lean forward = open and interested
4) Lean away = defensive or disinterested
5) Crossed arms = defensive
6) Uncrossed arms = willingness to listen
Sending Signals Without Words
Body language is extremly important in an interviewing situation. Some would
argue that it is just as important as what you say and what is on your resume. Why?
Because we can learn quite a bit about people by their non-verbal actions. This is
one of the ways that an interviewer is trying to size you up as a candidate.
When we are in stressful or uncomfortable situations, many of us have habits that
can be distracting to other people. Certainly biting ones nails or constantly fidgeting
with ones hands could be distracting from what you are trying to say. These are
examples of body language that can be harmful in an interviewing situation. Used
correctly, however, body language can reinforce what you are saying and give
greater impact to your statements. The following are tips to help you give the right
Facial / Head Signals
Seven Signals for Success
Giving a “dead fish” handshake will not advance one’s candidacy: neither will
opposite extreme, the iron-man bone crusher grip.
The ideal handshake starts before the meeting actually occurs. Creating the right
impression with the handshake is a three-step process. Be sure that:
1. Your hands are clean and adequately manicured.
2. Your hands are warm and reasonably free of perspiration. (There are a
number of ways to ensure this, including washing hands in warm water at
the interview site, holding one’s hand close to the cheek for a few seconds,
and even applying a little talcum powder.)
3. The handshake itself is executed professionally and politely, with a firm grip
and a warm smile.
Remember that if you initiate the handshake, you may send the message that you
have a desire to dominate the interview; this is not a good impression to leave with
one’s potential boss. Better to wait a moment and allow the interviewer to initiate
the shake. (If for any reason you find yourself initiating the handshake, do not pull
back; if you do, you will appear indecisive. Instead, make the best of it, smile
confidently, and make good eye contact.)
Use only one hand; always shake vertically. Do not extend your hand parallel to the
floor, with the palm up, as this conveys submissiveness. By the same token, you may
be seen as being too aggressive if you extend your flat hand outward with the palm
Facial / Head Signals
Once you take your seat, you can expect the interviewer to do most of the
talking. You can also probably expect your nervousness to be at its height.
Accordingly, you must be particularly careful about the nonverbal messages you
send at this stage.
Now, while all parts of the body are capable of sending positive and negative signals,
the head (including the eyes and mouth) is under the closest scrutiny. Most good
interviewers will make an effort to establish and maintain eye contact, and thus you
should expect that whatever messages you are sending from the facial region will be
picked up, at least on a subliminal level.
Our language is full of expressions testifying to the powerful influence of facial
signals. When we say that someone is shifty-eyed, is tight-lipped, has a furrowed
brow, flashes bedroom eyes, stares into space, or grins like a Cheshire cat, we are
speaking in a kind of shorthand, and using a set of stereotypes that enables us to
make judgments — consciously or unconsciously — about a person’s abilities and
qualities. Those judgments may not be accurate, but they are usually difficult to
Tight smiles and tension in the facial muscles often bespeak an inability to handle
stress; little eye contact can communicate a desire to hide something; pursed lips are
often associated with a secretive nature; and frowning, looking sideways, or peering
over one’s glasses can send signals of haughtiness and arrogance. Hardly the stuff of
which winning interviews are made!
Looking at someone means showing interest in that person, and showing interest is a
giant step forward in making the right impression. (Remember, each of us is our
own favorite subject!)
Your aim should be to stay with a calm, steady, and non-threatening gaze. It is easy
to mismanage this, and so you may have to practice a bit to overcome the common
hurdles in this area. Looking away from the interviewer for long periods while he is
talking, closing your eyes while being addressed, repeatedly shifting focus from the
subject to some other point: These are likely to leave the wrong impression.
Of course, there is a big difference between looking and staring at someone! Rather
than looking the speaker straight-on at all times, create a mental triangle
incorporating both eyes and the mouth; your eyes will follow a natural, continuous
path along the three points. Maintain this approach for roughly three-quarters of
the time; you can break your gaze to look at the interviewer’s hands as points are
emphasized, or to refer to your note pad. These techniques will allow you to leave
the impression that you are attentive, sincere, and committed. Staring will only send
the message that you are aggressive or belligerent.
Be wary of breaking eye contact too abruptly, and shifting your focus in ways that
will disrupt the atmosphere of professionalism. Examining the interviewer below the
shoulders, is a sign of over familiarity. (This is an especially important point to keep
in mind when being interviewed by someone of the opposite sex.)
The eyebrows send a message as well. Under stress, one’s eyebrows may wrinkle; as
we have seen, this sends a negative signal about our ability to handle challenges in
the business world. The best advice on this score is simply to take a deep breath and
collect yourself. Most of the tension that people feel at interviews has to do with
anxiety about how to respond to what the interviewer will ask. Practice responses to
traditional interview questions and relax, you will do a great job.
Rapidly nodding your head can leave the impression that you are impatient and
eager to add something to the conversation — if only the interviewer would let you.
Slower nodding, on the other hand, emphasizes interest, shows that you are
validating the comments of your interviewer, and subtly encourages him to continue. Tilting the head slightly, when combined with eye contact and a natural
smile, demonstrates friendliness and approachability. The tilt should be momentary
and not exaggerated, almost like a bob of the head to one side. (Do not overuse this
One guiding principle of good body language is to turn upward rather than
downward. Look at two boxers after a fight: the loser is slumped forward, brows
knit and eyes downcast, while the winner’s smiling face is thrust upward and
outward. The victor’s arms are raised high, his back is straight, his shoulders are
square. In the first instance the signals we receive are those of anger, frustration,
belligerence, and defeat; in the second, happiness, openness, warmth, and
Your smile is one of the most powerful positive body signals in your arsenal; it best
exemplifies the up-is-best principle, as well. Offer an unforced, confident smile as
frequently as opportunity and circumstances dictate. Avoid at all costs the technique
that some applicants use: grinning idiotically for the length of the interview, no
matter what. This will only communicate that you are either insincere or not quite
on the right track.
It’s worth that the mouth provides a seemingly limitless supply of opportunities to
convey weakness. This may be done by touching the mouth frequently (and,
typically, unconsciously); “faking” a cough when confused with a difficult question;
and/or gnawing on one’s lips absentmindedly. Employing any of these “insincerity
signs” when you are asked about, say, why you lost your last job, will confirm or
instill suspicions about your honesty and effectiveness.
As we have seen, a confident and positive handshake breaks the ice and gets the
interview moving in the right direction. Proper use of the hands throughout the rest
of the interview will help to convey an above-board, “nothing-to-hide” message.
Watch out for hands and fingers that take on a life of their own, fidgeting with
themselves or other objects such as pens, paper, or your hair. Pen tapping is
interpreted as the action of an impatient person; this is an example of an otherwise
trivial habit that can take on immense significance in an interview situation. (Rarely
will an interviewer ask you to stop doing something annoying; instead, he’ll simply make a mental note that you are an annoying person, and congratulate himself for
picking this up before making the mistake of hiring you.)
Some foot signals can have negative connotations. Women and men wearing slip-on
shoes should beware of dangling the loose shoe from the toes; this can be quite
distracting and, as it is a gesture often used to signal physical attraction, it has no
place in a job interview. Likewise, avoid compulsive jabbing of the floor, desk, or
chair with your foot; this can be perceived as a hostile and angry motion, and is
likely to annoy the interviewer.
The Seven Signals for Success
So far we have focused primarily on the pitfalls to avoid; but what messages should
be sent, and how? Here are seven general suggestions on good body language for the
1. Walk slowly, deliberately, and tall upon entering the room.
2. On greeting the interviewer, give (and, hopefully, receive) a friendly
“eyebrow flash”: that brief, slight raising of the brows that calls attention to
the face, encourages eye contact, and (when accompanied by a natural smile)
sends the strong positive signal that the interview has gotten off to a good
3. Use mirroring techniques. In other words, make an effort — subtly! — to
reproduce the positive signals your interviewer sends. (Of course, you should
never mirror negative body signals.) Say the interviewer leans forward to
make a point; a few moments later, you lean forward slightly in order to hear
better. Say the interviewer leans back and laughs; you “laugh beneath” the
interviewer’s laughter, taking care not to overwhelm your partner by using
an inappropriate volume level. This technique may seem contrived at first,
but you will learn that it is far from that, if only you experiment a little.
4. Maintain a naturally alert head position; keep your head up and your eyes
front at all times.
5. Remember to avert your gaze from time to time so as to avoid the impression
that you are staring; when you do so, look confidently and calmly to the right
or left; never look down.
6. Do not hurry any movement.
7. Relax with every breath.