“Body Language Five Ways To Show Empathy In A Negotiation”

“The absence of empathy is the completion of emotional detachment.” -Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator & Body Language Expert (click to Tweet)

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“Body Language – Five Ways

To Show Empathy In A Negotiation”

People don’t realize they’re always negotiating.

Don’t tell me you empathize with my position in this negotiation. You’ve not shown any empathy that I’ve discerned. What about the concession I gave you? Didn’t that display my understanding of your plight? No! You did that for your benefit. The compromise you made was not what I was seeking in this negotiation.

That was the exchange that occurred between two people during a negotiation. Does it sound like something you may have encountered in any of your negotiations?

Empathy is a potent tool in a negotiation. Its display, or its withholding, impacts the mind of a negotiator and the overall flow of the negotiation process. Empathy is something that negotiators seek in a negotiation, but few consider its impact on the talks.

The following insights outline how you can display empathy through your body language during a negotiation. It’s also insightful on how you can express empathy in other aspects of your life.


The sense of touch conveys information. Some people experience it at a conscious level, and some experience it subliminally. The point is, without it, there’ll be times when someone will miss the conveyance of valuable information.

So, how might you exhibit empathy in a negotiation through the sensation of touch? The answer is, you must utilize it stealthily. The reason being, if someone misperceives the display of touching as a false sense of empathy towards them, they may perceive it as pity. That can become the source of mistrust. So, when conveying empathy through touch, consider these factors.

1. Touching Other People

During a negotiation, touching the opposition may send the message that you understand them, you empathize with their position. Even if you can’t comply with a concession a negotiator has requested, you can soften their disappointment, not through words but by touch.

2. Touching Yourself

As stated earlier, people emit subliminal body language signals when they communicate nonverbally with others. And one of those signals occurs when touching themselves on certain parts of their body at specific times during a negotiation. For example, if a negotiator touches her heart area while proclaiming empathy for your position, the gesture suggests that she’s sincere; that’s to say if the action is not contrived. And you can use that gesture to convey empathy during your negotiations.  

Genuine Timed Smile

How do you feel when someone smiles at you? What do you sense about that person? More than likely, you sense friendliness and warmth. Their gesture suggests they’re approachable. You have nothing to fear from them.

A genuine timed smile, one not contrived during a negotiation, can also exude the warmth of empathy. To enhance its effect, at a point of agreement, flash a broad smile. You can increase your effort by stating something that bonds your words and actions.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a smile adds nonverbal value to it. And the sense of empathy can be the benefactor that conveys sincerity.

Physical Positioning

When people emotionally align, the feeling of physical space decreases. You’ll notice it when someone experiences grief or extreme happiness. During such times, individuals will embrace one another to console or enhance the other person’s feelings.

The point is, during a negotiation, you can use the proximity of space to enhance your display of empathy. And, if you use it at strategic points in the discussion, that will improve your efforts. Never overlook the importance of physical positioning during a negotiation. It’s a silent body language ally that waits to become utilized.


Mirroring is another solid body language tool that a negotiator can use to convey empathy, especially when the gesture is sincere. I recall when my younger sister and I were three and five years old. If something caused her to cry, I cried. Her being upset, upset me. That was genuine empathy.

During your negotiation, you can display genuine empathy during moments of reflection. For example, suppose the other negotiator became reflective. At that moment, she conveyed her thoughts while tilting her head back and looking up and to the left.

In that case, you could mirror the same gesture while reciting a similar time. The nonverbal statement, in that case, would be, I’m just like you. I understand. And I empathize with what you’re stating.

Mirroring is a powerful gesture to the degree that it’s not perceived to be a mockery. Thus, be mindful of when and how you use it. And never abuse it.

Body Language Synchronization

Imagine for a moment that you’re at a very intense point in the negotiation. The other negotiator says, I really empathize with your position, while he’s absent-mindedly doodling on his pad, with you watching. How might you feel emotionally – neglected?

At best, you may think he’s insincere or insensitive. At worse, such behavior may cause you to become rigid and filled with disregard for that person. At that point, you may not realize that you’ve entered into a phase of the negotiation that can be what leads to an impasse.

When displaying empathy, match your body language and words. The synchronization of those components will add to the perception of you showing compassion. And when those factors are out of synchronization, your display can become suspect as to its validity.     


Why is the value of empathy sometimes overlooked during a negotiation? The answer is because some negotiators don’t realize the value they have in it. And that can be to the detriment of the negotiator that fails to make this valuable tool their ally.

Now that you’re more aware of that value don’t let that happen to you. Heighten your awareness of the value empathy possesses in a negotiation. Use it, feel it, display it when required and as a necessity when needed. Using empathy in such a manner will enhance your negotiation efforts. And everything will be right with the world.

Remember, you’re always negotiating!

Listen to Greg’s podcast at https://c-suitenetwork.com/radio/shows/greg-williams-the-master-negotiator-and-body-language-expert-podcast/

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

To receive Greg’s free “Negotiation Tip of the Week” and the “Negotiation Insight,” click here https://themasternegotiator.com/greg-williams/blog

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