“Body Language Advice Systematic vs. Heuristic How To Negotiate Better” – Negotiation Tip of the Week

“The negotiator who misses body language gestures indicating the opposition’s use of systematic or heuristic thinking is missing an advantage.” -Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator & Body Language Expert

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Do you identify how body language impacts negotiations when negotiators use heuristic versus systematic thinking? Do you know why that should matter if you want to negotiate better?

A systematic approach entails analyzing data and scrutinizing similar points to discern the appropriate action. The heuristic method relies on making quicker decisions based on prior knowledge and expertise acquired from engaging in similar past activities.   

This article will give you insights into identifying which form of thinking the opposition is engaging, the role body language plays in that endeavor, and how you can entice the opposition into one form of thought processing versus another based on your interest. This insight will allow you to become a more dynamic negotiator and communicator in your endeavors with others.

Identifying Systematic Processing Through Body Language

When negotiators use systematic thought processing, they may exhibit body language reflecting a focused, analytical mindset. For example:

1. Thinking Gestures: Gestures frequently associated with deep contemplation and thoughtful consideration of information entail negotiators cupping or stroking their chin, rubbing their forehead, or casting gazes as though tuning into unseen scenes.

2. Composed Body Posture: Negotiators displaying a steadfast body posture may indicate attentiveness to the inner reflections of their thoughts. You can discern this by their lack of movement while in that state and their appearance of being somewhat distant.

3. Forward/Backward Leaning: A forward-leaning or backward-leaning posture can signal interest in better understanding your offer’s details. While either gesture may indicate systematic processing, observe other signals to confirm the opposition’s thinking approach (i.e., smiling, frowning, joyful, downtrodden).

If the opposition appears deep in thought while displaying such movements, you can perceive them as having a systematic approach to their thinking. The other gestures you observe will give you insight into the movement of their thoughts (i.e., frowning, downtrodden – uneasy, smiling, joyful – pleased).

Identifying Heuristic Processing Through Body Language

Heuristic processing, differing from systematic, is shown in body language in more animated gestures. You can sense the degree of excitement by the additional energy the other negotiator exhibits. Observe signs such as:

1. Fidgety Movements: Fidgeting, finger or foot-tapping, making expansive hand gestures, and squirming can indicate a restless mind contemplating inner thoughts. Note the degree to which such activities increase or decrease to assess the heuristic versus systematic movement in which their thought process is heading.

2. Rapid Eye Movement: Quick eye movement or an increased blinking rate can indicate that a negotiator is thinking heuristicly. Once you observe it, to gain greater insight into the cause of those actions, note when the activity began. That will highlight what the opposition is thinking about, which can also indicate the importance of that matter.

3. Detached Behavior: When a negotiator displays behavior detached from the occurrences they engage in, it could be due to heuristic or systematic thought processing. To discern which it is, note gestures that appear aligned with heuristic processing (i.e., finger tapping, quick eye movement, etc.) versus systematic processing (i.e., stoic, distant gaze, etc.). Observing those gestures will enlighten your understanding of the thought process the opposition is using and the direction in which the negotiation is heading.  

Shifting Thought Processing Mode Through Body Language Imagery

When negotiating, you can use your body language to create dim, bright, or moderate images in the other party’s mind. Thus, when you want them to shift from systematic to heuristic processing, you may become animated while discussing the outcome they will achieve when they accept your offer.

When you observe the opposition switching from a more stoic position to one more open and loose, you are on the path to reaching your quest. You should strive to create strong images in the other party’s mind using your body language. That will add a more significant impact to your negotiation efforts.

Efficiently Negotiating Based on Thought-Processing Methods

After taking into account the thought processing mode the opposition is using, accounting for the body language gestures they exhibit, consider:

1. Systematic Thought Processing: When the other negotiator displays systematic thought processing, provide information with specificity. Use data to support your position with logical claims to highlight them. Solicit additional insight to uncover any hidden thoughts and agendas they might have.  

2. Heuristic Thought Processing: When the opposition uses heuristic processing, cite stories with positive outcomes tied to your offer that others who dealt with you experienced – paint a picture of pure bliss. Gear your efforts towards allowing them to see the benefits of your offer, placing them in a better position.


Reading body language is crucial to understanding whether your counterpart uses systematic or heuristic processing. That allows you to tailor how you deliver information to leverage that negotiator’s decision-making process.

So, in your next negotiation, heighten your body language perception. Assess when your counterpart uses systematic (i.e., deliberate and data-driven) or heuristic (i.e., self-reflective, relying on past experiences) processing. Doing that will give you a huge advantage. And everything will be right with the world.

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After reading this article, what are you thinking? I’d like to know. Reach me at Greg@TheMasterNegotiator.com

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