The Negotiator Magazine

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“Nonverbal Signals and Negotiating Interactions”

by Charles B. Craver.

            Nonverbal communication, which is one of the most significant sources of information available to negotiators, is often overlooked. The negotiating parties tend to concentrate on what is being verbally communicated, and they fail to appreciate the information being nonverbally displayed. This is especially true when opponents are talking, but it is even true when these persons are speaking. Since most individuals find it easier to be less than forthright verbally than nonverbally, people who fail to observe opponent nonverbal signs are likely to miss the most trustworthy messages being communicated by their adversaries. Certain nonverbal signals may also suggest that accompanying verbal messages are deceitful. While no one signal is a conclusive indication of deception, observers who look for relevant nonverbal patterns and changes can learn to spot likely prevarication.

            Skilled negotiators need to appreciate the importance of nonverbal signals. They should occasionally read books on this critical subject and watch body language being communicated by others in different settings. The more attuned negotiators are to these subtle messages, the more they will appreciate the actual feelings of the people with whom they interact. Recognizing that it is difficult to simultaneously speak and watch the nonverbal responses of others, many negotiators take colleagues with them to look for such signals while they are talking.

            It would be impossible to cover the many nonverbal signals explored in the many excellent books devoted to nonverbal communication, but it would be helpful to focus on a few to introduce readers the this critical topic. Once people begin to appreciate the importance of reading nonverbal signals, they may be induced to peruse several of these books in an effort to become more adept at reading such signs.


  1. Facial Expressions


            Facial expressions are the most easily manipulated forms of nonverbal communication for most persons, yet subtle clues to the actual feelings of the signalers can often be perceived by careful observers. Taut lips may indicate frustration or anxiety. A subtle smile, often hidden quickly by a bowed head, or brief signs of relief around the corners of opponent mouths when new offers are made, may indicate that the offeror has approached or entered the other side’s settlement range.

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April 2007