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Other pages in this series:
» Distributive Bargaining
» Bargaining Strategies
» Leverage
» Ethics
» Agents in Negotiations

Other pages of interest:
» Nonverbal Communication
» Is it lying?


Nonverbal Communication in Negotiations

Nonverbal communication is like a film score, providing a richly informative background to the storyline of a negotiation's verbal foreground. Besides body language and facial expressions, we also communicate nonverbally through such signals as the negotiation room, food, furnishing, clothing, the look of the printed materials, and so on.

Some ways that nonverbals can help you communicate in a negotiation:

  • Nonverbals enrich verbal communication by adding information: implications, punctuation, atmosphere, and subtext.
  • Give emphasis to verbal communication, showing what is most important, giving it emotional color.
  • Can be used to suggest something you aren't allowed to come right out and say (resistence, sexual attraction, irritation, disagreement, dislike....).
  • Create rapport if your nonverbal messages are "in sync" with the other party's.
  • Get people's attention.
  • Give you advance warning of negative responses.

A caution about "sending a message" to the other party

Negotiators frequently resort to "sending a message" non-verbally through dramatic action-- walking out of a negotiation, or pounding the table, or falling into stony silence, for example, or on a larger scale, bombing a city, running airplanes into buildings. The larger the audience, the bigger the gesture needs to be.

Trouble is, although you know perfectly well what you are trying to say, they probably don't. Your action is likely to be misinterpreted, particularly if people don't know each other well or come from different cultures, or if suspicions are running high. Furthermore, the other side is likely to respond in kind, using nonverbal rather than verbal channels. Misinterpretations, suspicions, and emotional responses grow by leaps and bounds as conversational communication shuts down.

Are they lying?

We think we can tell when someone is lying, however research shows that only people who are specially trained (such as police) identify lying at rates better than random chance.

Taking a few cues from policework, it turns out that LISTENING rather than LOOKING is the most effective way to detect lying. Liars are more able to control their facial expressions and eye contact than their voices. People who are speaking honestly tend to:

  • Speak in lower tones
  • Make fewer sentence repairs (where you start to speak and correct your words/grammar midway)
  • Use more illustrative gestures (hand movements and facial expressions that accompany spoken remarks).
  • Speak fluidly, rapidly, easily.
Most important is to be aware of the situation--does this person have an overwhelming incentive to lie? Check out the conditions for deception on the ethics.html page. Are they poorly prepared for the negotiation? People are more likely to lie when they are caught unprepared. You might also reconsider how much it matters if someone is lying to you or not: Is it lying?: A cross-cultural perspective.

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