Jane was dressed smartly and professionally, with an obviously expensive dark blue business suit and a brown leather briefcase.
She walked purposefully into the room, surveyed it, sat down, placed her briefcase on the table. She took out a pad of paper, some neatly typed notes, a Mont Blanc pen and a calculator. Her movements were direct and precise.
She then looked up, leaned forward, made eye contact with her adversary and they were off. The negotiation began.
Or did it?
In fact, the negotiation began the moment Jane physically presented herself into that environment. At that time, everyone there started picking up nonverbal signals from Jane and sending them to her.
Some were conscious. Others were unconscious. And each had meaning and affected the negotiation dynamic.
Let’s analyze Jane’s nonverbal communications. In many cases, our ability to send and perceive nonverbal cues may be the difference between success and failure.
First, however, we must acknowledge that analyzing nonverbal messages and picking up body language cues is not an exact science. And misinterpreting signals can have disastrous effects. This “science” is further complicated by the intercultural differences attributed to various nonverbal communications.
In the United States, nodding your head usually means agreement. In Japan, nodding means only that the message was received. In Bulgaria, nodding illustrates disagreement.
We must thus carefully engage in this analysis and, at the least, recognize that individual nonverbal cues rarely represent dispositive signals.
Rather, we should look more at the overall picture and analyze changes in behavior and indicative patterns of behavior.
So what has Jane communicated to us without saying a word?
Overall, she’s probably a confident, no-nonsense, logical and organized person who pays attention to detail and is not afraid to mix it up.
How do we know – for Jane and for others? Analyze the following nonverbal cues:
Facial expressions and eye contact.
Researchers estimate the human face can project more than 250,000 different expressions. The face also is responsible for most of the meaning in nonverbal messages.
For example, in the United States we generally expect those to whom we’re speaking to look at us. Lack of eye contact often is interpreted as disinterest or even disrespect.
Shifting or darting eye contact often communicates discomfort or even dishonesty. Intense staring may be an effort to intimidate. Alternatively, warm eye contact may reflect sincerity or openness.
Facial expressions and eye contact also can control the flow of communication – a critical negotiation skill.
Next time you’re seeking important information from your counterparty, ask a question, listen and, if you’re dissatisfied with the answer, initiate eye contact and put a questioning look on your face. Then remain silent. Chances are your counterparty will fill the silence – and you’ll learn more.
Body movements and gestures.
While body movements and gestures are quite difficult to interpret given different cultures’ norms and habits, recognize others likely will interpret certain movements regardless of your intentions.
In a meeting, poor posture or slouching likely will be viewed as signaling a lack of enthusiasm. Leaning forward may be an expression of interest and eagerness.
Nervous habits or movements may be viewed as signals of ineptness. And how many of us draw conclusions about others based on the firmness of their handshake?
Clothing and personal appearance.
Finally, don’t underestimate the effect of clothing and appearance. Research has shown they help others determine your status, credibility and persuasiveness.
For instance, studies have found that: people perceived as more attractive are more persuasive; clothing indicates your status – especially with strangers; and people have more influence with others when wearing high-status clothing.
So next time you’re about to sit down and negotiate, look around and read the nonverbal signals floating around. And if you’re across the table from Jane, smile (reflecting optimism), look her in the eye (telling her you’re engaged and ready to start) and steeple your hands by putting them together in an uplifted posture (signaling confidence).
Published January 28, 2000 The Business Journal