You enter in to the negotiating room and almost instantly you dislike the person you are negotiating with. You feel something slimly and distrustful in their approach but you can’t pin your finger on what it is. You live through the negotiation but you feel ill at ease. Later on, when the other party backs out on what they promised, you think “I knew something like this would happen. Why didn’t I just trust my gut reaction?”
Well you are not alone! Over 65-90% of every conversation is interpreted through body language, yet only about 4% of the population actually understands how to read body language. When negotiating, this one point can make the difference between a stress free effective negotiation and a rocky one that ends with both parties ticked off.
Why It Is Important To Understand Body Language When Negotiating
Once you learn to read and understand body language, you can see what a person is thinking but not saying. You can tell when they are in agreement with you, disagreement, bored, interested, upset, angry or confused.
I did some intense studying of body language in order to be able to negotiate better. I had studied the traditional ways of negotiating such as positional bargaining, but found that they didn’t give me any insight into the other person. I wasn’t finding a way to connect on a deeper level with them. Additionally, most of the people on the other side of the negotiating table were generally twenty years older than me. Even if I became adept at the tactics of traditional negotiating, these people had been doing it for so long they would always be able to out think me.
Negotiations: Make “I” Contact.
I also knew that much of the outcome of the negotiation is based on how you feel about the person and how the negotiation is being handled. I thought back to negotiations where I had agreed to less than I normally would. The common denominator in each instance was the sincerity and great approach of the other person. Instead of thinking about winning – which was ME oriented, I wanted to focus on adding value to the other person and be more WE oriented.
So, that left me with one solution – to understand what my colleagues or adversaries were thinking, but not saying. That way I would know when to make concessions, when to hold, and what questions to ask. Body language can provide those clues while at the same time redirecting your focus from yourself to the other person. You have to listen not only with your ears, but your whole body as well.
Yes, I see what you’re saying.
For me this really came to light during a major negotiation with a vendor that I and another buyer did $12 million dollars of business with. The president of the company flew in to meet with my management, the other buyer and myself. They came with an entire entourage including the Sales Manager and their sales people.
The meeting was tense right up front. They sat on one side of the long boardroom table and we all sat on the other side. The other buyer started the session by reviewing our joint agenda. As she went through each point I just sat and watched their president. I tried to imagine what he was thinking and feeling by reading his body language.
I watched their president squirm. He switched legs from one side to the next. He adjusted his tie and picked lint off of his clothing. He looked at the ceiling. He flipped his tie. He crossed his arms, and uncrossed his arms. He looked at his fingers and drummed them on the table. Finally he took the agenda, flipped it over, crossed his arms and legs and leaned back. At that point, the room got quiet.
As I watched him, I saw from his body language that he was irritated, that he felt attacked and unappreciated. I saw that he felt we were asking for a lot and not giving enough in return. So I leaned forward, looked at him, and said, “You have built a very successful company in a relatively short amount of time. You found a niche for comfort shoes that can be worn to work. What I want to know is, what are your plans for the company in the next five years? How do you plan to advertise and grow and how can we assist you?”