“How To Use Body Language For Surprise In A Negotiation” – Negotiation Tip of the Week

“Someone’s body language reveals their surprise, be it disappointment or happiness.” -Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator & Body Language Expert (click to Tweet)

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“How To Use Body Language For Surprise In A Negotiation”

People don’t realize they’re always negotiating.

You can surprise people when you call them by their name. It creates the beginnings of a bonding process. What occurs after that is either enhanced or detracted based on the body language signals emitted. I used this technique when I recently talked to a receptionist on the phone at my doctor’s office. Different people answer the phone whenever I call, and I always ask with whom I’m speaking. And then, I’ll say in a voice of familiarity, “Hi, Sue, how are you doing? It’s nice to hear your voice.” Sue, most likely not knowing who the heck I am, responds with a pleasant demeanor and becomes more attentive to addressing my call’s purpose.

Sue’s surprise comes in the form of hearing her name spoken by someone she doesn’t know. That sends her into thought mode. She internally attempts to recall who I am, what prior interactions we’ve had, and most likely, she has a sense of uncomfortableness at not connecting who I am. That leads to her becoming more attentive to my request that follows. And it all stemmed from a surprise – the sound of her name.

What follows is how you can use surprise in body language and nonverbal communication in your negotiation and other aspects of your life.

Information Gathering

Nonverbal Communication

Have you considered how you can gain information by acting like you already know what you’re seeking? You can use nonverbal intonation to assist in that effort. For example:

A guy was attempting to uncover what a woman’s functions were where she worked. When he called to inquire, the main receptionist at the company answered. She informed him that she could not give out that information. The man spoke in an upbeat tone and said, I knew most likely you couldn’t release information about staff members – he paused several seconds to see if the woman commented, she said, you’re right. And there was a nonverbal glimpse of happiness in her voice. At that moment, the receptionist implied that the woman was on staff at that location. The man had received part of the information he sought – the woman worked at that location.

The man proceeded by saying, I can tell you’re good at your job; again, in an upbeat and complimentary tone. Then he asked, can you please get a message to her for me? The receptionist said I guess I can get a note to the doctor for you. With that, the man had another piece of information. And it all stemmed from the man implying he had more insight than he did.  

So, what were the steps in which the man engaged?

1. He mimicked the receptionist voice from whom he was seeking to extract information. That initiated the bonding process. People like people like themselves. And thus, when they hear words and sounds that they emit from another source, it reminds them of themselves.  
2. Once the inquisitor mimicked the receptionist’s voice, she heard the sound of her voice coming from the man seeking information in her mind. And that was the man’s value of simulating the sound of the receptionist’s voice.     

Body Language

The gestures you make when communicating enhances or detracts from your message. Accordingly, you should always be aware of the signal your emitting and how it’s received. I’ve witnessed a pleasant surprise viewed with skepticism. That occurred when a friend and I arrived at his home, and he gave his wife flowers. Her response at receiving the flowers was, what did you do? My friend said, can’t a loving husband display how much he loves his wife? (Take note – he didn’t answer her question.) To which she responded, you look guilty of something.

So, even though my friend’s wife was receiving a pleasant surprise, his wife detected cues from his body language that indicated something wasn’t right. Later, my friend and I spoke about that situation. He said she suspected something. I asked him, did she? Or, was she seeking information by acting like she suspected something? He smiled and said, she is clever like that. His wife was negotiating, and he didn’t have a clue about what was occurring.

I’ll omit the rest of the story to protect the innocent or guilty, depending on your perception. Suffice it to say, always be aware of the silent signals your body language emits. Those signals can override good intentions.   

The ‘X’ Factor – Trust

Recall the last time you were pleasantly surprised. Did it occur in a negotiation, or was it in some other setting? I ask because depending on the environment you’re in, you’re more on guard than at different times.

Thus, the impact of a surprise can be more or less impactful based on your environment. And those environments are impacted by the ‘x’ factor of trust – the degree you trust someone based on what’s occurring in your surroundings.

To increase the trust factor, use a surprise that pleases the other person; it’s also a great way to lessen the delivery of a hard to bare message. Negotiators use this tactic in negotiations by extending something unexpected. The gesture can become enhanced when accompanied by a real smile (i.e., eyes widened, cheekbones elevated, lips upturned at corners), compared to the one that’s not. If someone wanted to convey coyness or intrigue, that person might look slightly down with his head slightly cocked while giving a sideways glimpse. Thus, you can see how an accompanying gesture can alter the surprise and the trust factor’s perception.


If you seek the truth, but you’re unsure about how to obtain it, let the answers come to you. You can do that by controlling your body language gestures and nonverbal communication in a negotiation or other interactions. Just use the suggestions mentioned, and the facts that you’ve not uncovered will reveal themselves. 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/

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