“What You Need To Know About Body Language In A Negotiation” – Negotiation Insight

“The absence of one’s ability to read body language is not a sin. The sin lies in what one is missing.” -Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator & Body Language Expert (Click to Tweet)

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“What You Need To Know About

Body Language In A Negotiation”

People don’t realize they’re always negotiating.

Most negotiators are aware that body language conveys a valuable amount of information in a negotiation. Some negotiators are unaware of such signals. Usually, that’s due to a negotiator placing too much focus on what’s said. Instead, he should observe the nonverbal communications that accompany the words. If you fall into this category during your negotiations, heed the following suggestions.  

Be Attentive

Make it a practice before entering into a negotiation to remind yourself to be alert to body language signals emitted during the talks. That includes yours and the other negotiator. If you’ve assessed how the other negotiator uses body language in a negotiation, and you should have done so, note any changes he exhibits from his norms. That’ll be the degree to which your offer or statement impacted his thoughts. In particular, note the degree that he displays sentiments with hand gestures, head movements, eye-focus, coupled with voice intonation.

Hand Gestures

Hand gestures, and their timing, can give great insight in a negotiation about how an offer is perceived. For example, if the other negotiator has displayed little hand movement before an offer (his or yours) and then becomes more animated with them, the thought about the offer is the source behind his actions. That’s the case with other gesture displays too. Once you observe movement in either direction, slowing down or speeding up, look to the cause that stimulated that action. Therein will lie a point upon which to focus.   

Head Movements

A negotiator may display displeasure to an offer by moving his head backward. The degree may be slight or more pronounced. The point is when he reveals that movement, he’s displaying the need to place distance between him and the offer. You can even observe how long he remains entrenched in that position before he repositions himself back to the point he held prior. When he stays in one spot, the time it takes him to move back are points and degrees of disengagement and reengagement.  


Have you ever been in a negotiation, and you knew the other negotiator had tuned out? Can you recall what gave you that sensation? If you observe the moment it initially occurred, you may have noted something in the eyes of your counterpart. They may have had a glazed appearance.

A negotiator’s eyes can give insight into his thoughts per the degree of focus he places on a matter. He’ll do so even when it‘s in the form of the spoken word. And while some negotiators believe they can disguise a lie if they maintain constant eye contact, the fact that they hold it too long can be their undoing.

Voice Intonation

The rise and fall of a negotiator’s voice, and the emphasis he places on certain words, also gives insight into his thoughts and what’s important. Thus, if he states that something is emphatic while pounding the table, the pounding gesture will confirm his commitment to that point. Also, keep in mind that a knowledgeable negotiator with a sense of body language can feign this maneuver – synchronizing his actions with his words. To verify his projecting position, observe how long his gestures remain aligned with his actions. And look for any slight difference in what he’s saying and the gestures accompanying his words. The difference between the two will be the opening in his charade.   

An arching point to note about deciphering someone’s body language is, a negotiator will display his gestures before pronouncing his words. The intervention between the two will be slight. Thus, to recognize when it occurs, you must be keen-sighted. When you observe someone is leading with words and then their body gesture follows, pay attention to what they’re saying. More than likely, they’re not as forthcoming as the words they convey.

Whenever you observe someone’s body language, establish a baseline per how that individual uses gestures to express himself. If you don’t, you can very well misinterpret someone’s body language. That’s because different people may use the same nonverbal gesture and have it represent contrary things. But once you’ve established a negotiator’s baseline, you’ll know what he means when he shows one nonverbal signal versus another. And it’ll be like you’re reading his mind, even when he thinks he’s closed the book.


I knew a negotiator that was prone to engaging in histrionics. Most of the time, he admitted, he did so as a way to unnerve the other negotiator. His gesticulations almost cast him in the role of a maniac. He told me that some people were afraid of negotiating with him for fear of ‘setting him off.’  

When you’re in a negotiation, to offset the negotiator that displays maniacal body language gestures, and you suspect he’s doing so as a ruse, do one of two things.

1. Let him play his fool’s role as long as his gestures don’t become threatening – when negotiating with a bully, he’ll exhibit intimidating body language to control you. And the negotiator that displays wild gestures is most likely attempting to do the same.

2. As soon as he begins his act, shut it down. You can do that by stating in a firm voice while standing up that you’re not going to tolerate such behavior. So, unless he wants the negotiation to end right then, he’ll have to change his behavior. After making your pronouncement, note if his behavior changes. If he does, note the degree that he becomes more demure. A negotiator can use body language to project different personas. If you sense a misalignment is a negotiator’s persona, challenge him.   


A negotiator signals his inner thoughts through his body language in a negotiation. Accordingly, the more aware of what he’s signaling you are, the more you’ll be aware of hidden meanings he’s concealing. The uncovering of the meanings his body language projects will also give you an advantage in the negotiation. 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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