What Are You Saying That You Aren't Saying?

Ok, that's a bit cryptic, so what do I mean? Body Language. Whether or not you are consciously aware of the signals you are sending and receiving, body language plays an important role in how your message is perceived by your negotiation partner(s).

To be sure, there are many, many ways that we communicate non-verbally. Further, there is no set way in which a particular hand gesture, posture or eye movement will have a definitive meaning. Many of those subtle non-verbal clues will vary from person to person. However there are some steps you can take to help you better understand your own non-verbal cues and those of others.

Be aware what your body language is signaling to the other side. How do you act when you are nervous, angry, happy, confused, agreeable, disagreeable, etc. By taking stock of some of your own non-verbal communication, you may more quickly pick up on those same signals in others. Additionally, if you are working on your "pokerface" when it comes to negotiations, being able to shed some of these non-verbal clues will help you ensure that you don't unintentionally give away information in a negotiation.

The more difficult step is connecting the body language of your counterpart to information that can help you better understand how your communication is being received and perceived by your negotiation counterpart. Much of the time, you may have to rely on time and experience to provide such information, but you may be able to shortcut the process by following up when your counterpart is sending some non-verbal cues such as crossing arms over the chest, looking away, doodling or otherwise fidgeting. For example, if you are discussing payment terms and your counterpart suddenly crosses their arms, you can follow up by saying "Is there anything about the payment terms I've just described that you think we should discuss?"

This important skill of understanding non-verbal communication will not come overnight and takes some work, but it will help you better see how the negotiation process affects the other party and provides clues about problem areas that may require further discussion. Good luck!