By Derek Arden, international negotiator, a conference speaker and author of Win Win: How to get a positive result from persuasive negotiations
Body language is said to be the secret language of success. Many people do not even notice how people are giving off signals, but these might actually be nearer to the truth than the words they are saying.
It has been said that it is 5 times more difficult to lie with your body language than it is with words because their body language reflects what the person is thinking, rather than what they are saying. In 1972 there was a famous study into body language, and while the results of the study was somewhat confused, it showed for the first time that it body language was far more important in the meaning of communication, than the words or the voice tonality.
When it comes to negotiations, it is really important to look at body language closely if we want to win. Firstly, meeting people face to face put you in a stronger position, and secondly, it can be a very good idea to have an observer with you who can concentrate on reading the signals. It can be very difficult to do this when you are focused on running a meeting or thinking about your side of the negotiations, but with an observer you can take a break or a time out so you can discuss what they have observed. This works particularly well if they watch for body language when you ask the key questions.
So what are the signals common signals that we might notice? It is important to remember that it is the clusters of signals that really count, particularly the ones that happen around the time the person answers your questions.
Hand to face gestures, particularly nose rubbing, are linked to a group of clusters known as deceit clusters. According to the famous story, Pinocchio’s nose grew every time he told a lie, and perhaps that was inspired by the instinct to rub one’s nose when we are uncomfortable with what we are saying.
Fidgeting can also be a sign of being uncomfortable. Covering our “Adams apple” is a sign of feeling threatened. Putting hands together in a praying type of gesture, means looking for some outside help (divine help) whereas just touching the finger tips like a church steeple is a confident sign.
Your own body language is also very important. If you look good, confident, sit upright and appear attentive and energized, it will give off good signals that you know and mean what you are saying. Equally, when faced with difficult questions you should pause and consider your answers rather than allowing the other side to pressurise you into dropping your guard. Don’t forget, it is often acceptable to take a break or get back to them when you have gathered your facts and thought things through, if it is really important.
Some body language signals mean different things in different countries. For example the AOK gesture might mean “all good” in USA, but in France it means zero and in some eastern cultures it is an insult. So be careful.
Finally whilst body language is intuitive, many people don’t notice the body language as they are so focused on the logical (left brain) side of the negotiation. With this, they don’t see the “tells” as big brother calls it, that give you a much clearer picture of what the other person really has in mind. With a little practice, the truth is usually plain to see when you watch someone’s body language, but most people simply look but don’t see!