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Non-Verbal Communication in Negotiation

The Scotwork Team

The goal of a successful negotiation is to reach an acceptable outcome for everyone involved – even when there are conflicting demands. While the spoken word plays a critical part in conveying what we want, non-verbal communication in negotiation is an equally important and sometimes overlooked part of the negotiator’s toolkit.


Understanding Non-Verbal Cues in Negotiation

Understanding non-verbal cues is inherently built into our DNA makeup but taking the time to think about the impact of body language in business could be the deal-breaker for your next negotiation.

The effectiveness of negotiation often hinges upon preparation and a good negotiator will spend time researching the other party’s goals long before they ever step into the negotiation room. However, a great negotiator will also spend some time thinking about the impact of non-verbal cues, both their own and their counterparty’s body language, including cultural variations.

Being able to read body language in negotiation is a vital skill and can inform you whether your counterpart is engaged or receptive to your issues.


The Impact of Body Language on Negotiation Outcomes

How you present yourself plays into the negotiation process and how you’re perceived. Using effective and natural body language during negotiation, such as facial expressions, gestures, and eye contact, can support the meaning behind your words, so utilise it carefully to positively influence your negotiation outcomes.


Interpreting Facial Expressions

The key to successful negotiation is building trust and we have a natural bias towards friendly, open body language in business. A sincere smile that reaches your eyes demonstrates that you’re both positive and reliable. By contrast, we tend to avoid angry-looking people, putting them in the “untrustworthy” bucket.

Of course, your facial expression should mirror your words, if the topic is serious, then a wide grin won’t do you any favours.


The Power of Eye Contact

Making appropriate amounts of eye contact during a negotiation can feel like walking on a tightrope. There’s a delicate balance to maintain.

Looking at your counterparty lets them know that you’re interested and engaged in the conversation. Although not always the case – in some cultures, maintaining eye contact is a mark of disrespect – avoiding eye contact is often perceived as non-confident body language in negotiation, which can put you on the back foot.

Equally, too much eye contact could potentially make your counterparty feel uncomfortable and distract them from the proceedings. Like anything in life, you’ll need to find an equilibrium.

The Role of Gestures and Posture

The best negotiators stay calm under pressure, or at least look it. Many of us have tics that we fall back on during situations of stress – nail-biting, toe-tapping, and crossing our arms, all spring to mind. Undertaking business negotiation training to help us maintain control over our natural tendencies ensures we only communicate the messages we choose.

The Effect of Tone and Inflection

How we say something has just as much impact as what we say. In negotiation, we tend to choose our words very carefully – the message tone can be changed with just a single word substitution.

However, we should also be in the habit of considering our tone and inflection. Talking too quickly can suggest nervousness or stress. A rising tone at the end of a sentence usually indicates a question, which is great if you’re showing your counterpart that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say. It’s less helpful if you’re setting out your non-negotiable terms.

Being aware of the subtle differences in non-verbal communication in negotiation can considerably improve your success rate.


Using Non-Verbal Communication to Build Rapport

We’re communicating with our body language all the time, whether we’re conscious of it or not. Being aware of how non-verbal communication impacts us is a great first step towards building rapport with our counterparts, leading to more successful relationships.

Awareness isn’t everything, though. Skills such as the “mirroring’ technique, where we imitate others’ behaviour to set them at ease, can further enhance our negotiation armoury.

Overcoming Non-Verbal Communication Barriers

Self-awareness is crucial for effective communication – you can’t fix what you don’t know. Appreciating your own as well as others’ non-verbal cues puts you in control. With practice, you’ll learn how to read facial expressions and gestures and use them to your advantage, as well as how to adapt your own body language to reinforce your message.

Non-Verbal Communication Strategies for Successful Negotiation

Preparation is essential for successful negotiation and non-verbal communication should form part of your strategy. Research your counterpart as far as possible, including any cultural leanings, so that nothing’s left to chance when you sit at the table.

Not only is body language important but even your outfit choice and the location of the room you’ve chosen to sit in can form part of non-verbal communication – for better or for worse.

Non-verbal communication is not a separate beast from the spoken word, both must work in harmony to achieve the best possible outcomes. 

The Scotwork Team
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