Nonverbal cues and body language play a crucial role in negotiations. For example, many of us nod our heads yes to show the other side we agree with what they’re saying, and we shake our heads no to get the other side to pause and reflect.
For many of us, thinking about body language stops here. But the more conscious you are about using body language as a tool in negotiations, the more effective your efforts will be.
Here’s one body language negotiation technique to try next time you find yourself at the table: Lean forward toward your counterpart and turn your head to show them that you are trying to listen more intently by facing your ear in their direction.
Think of it as active listening personified. You’re literally positioning your ear as close to the other side’s voice as you can.
Why Body Language Is a Helpful Negotiation Tool
When it comes to any body language negotiation technique—even ones we don’t agree with, such as mirroring body language—the goal is the same: You want the other side to be more comfortable with you. When they’re more comfortable, they’re going to trust you more and be willing to share more in-depth information with you.
Next time you’re speaking with someone and you ask them a question you really want to know the answer to using an asking label (e.g., Seems like you’ve got an idea about how to move forward?) your next move is to use dynamic silence, lean forward, and turn your ear toward them. This behavior is an indicator that says you genuinely value the other side’s opinion and are eager to hear what they’re going to say.
At the same time, this behavior eliminates the little voice in your counterpart’s head that emerges every now and again to derail a negotiation: Is this person even listening to me? When that question is running through the other side’s mind, they’re not absorbing what you say because they’re preoccupied elsewhere—which is how negotiations reach a dead end.
Other Body Language Negotiation Tactics to Add to Your Repertoire
The move outlined here ties into two other techniques we’re fans of:
- Turning your head toward the speaker, nodding your head, and using minimal encouragers such as uh-huh and yeah when they’re talking
- Having a smile and pleasant look on your face
Now, don’t get me wrong: People use these two techniques regularly. But the reality is that they tend to do it only when they hear something that resonates with them.
For the best results, you want to use these techniques more than 75 percent of the time. Nodding doesn’t always have to show the other side that you agree with what they’re saying. Sometimes, it just shows that you hear what they’re saying.
By nature, I’m an assertive negotiator. When I listen to someone intently, I lean back and look up to the side. In these moments, I’m really thinking deeply about what my counterpart is saying. But based on my physical appearance, people often think that I’m being disagreeable because I look pissed off. I know this because people have told me time and again.
When the other side thinks I’m upset, the conversation stalls. The little voice in their head starts saying things like I can’t get a read on him, I can’t trust him, and He’s waiting for the right moment to trap me.
And remember: People are going to be apprehensive about sharing information with someone they can’t read. If they can’t tell that you are actually listening to what they’re saying, they won’t share information—it’s that simple.
Don’t Forget: There Are Positive Emotions, Too
Whenever most of us talk about emotions, we tend to dwell on negative emotions like anger, fear, or being out of control. We think emotions are a problem that we don’t want to deal with.
But never forget that there are positive emotions too—like happiness and joy. Positive emotions are something you appear to lack when you’re doing your best to hide emotion altogether during a negotiation.
If you struggle to show positive emotions, you may simply need to change your mindset. You don’t have to nod your head to show that you agree with the other side, for example. You can nod your head to indicate that you’re passionate about learning more.
The bottom line? Showing physical excitement and genuine interest is always going to get you to the right place. And leaning in and turning your ear so it’s facing the other side will get you there even faster.
By doing so, you let your counterpart know that you’re listening to their words and eager to hear more. They’ll start to trust you and share more information with you—which leads to the trust-based influence you need to achieve the outcomes you desire.
So give it a try next time you sit down at the table. You may find that this little trick packs quite the punch.