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Watch Out for the Non-Verbal Cues!

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

One of the latest blog posts from the Harvard  Negotiation Project notes the importance of understanding body language in negotiations. Written by the PON staff and posted on January 30, 2020, “Using Body Language in Negotiation” analyses three situations in which analyzing body language may improve the outcome of your negotiations. ( “PONS Blog”)

But, first I digress a little bit. Why is body language important? In the 1960’s, Albert Mehrabian and colleagues at the University of California at Los Angeles  (UCLA) conducted some studies on human communication patterns and determined that our communication is only about 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal. Of that 93%,  about 55% is body language while the remaining 38% is the tone and music of our voices. (Ubiquity )

So- back to the PONS blog. The first scenario is mimicry; to mimic the actions of the other; if she sits back in her chair, so do you; if she leans forward, so do you, if she crosses her legs, so do you. But, do it subtlety so that the other does not catch on to what you are doing. This subtle action though will cause both parties’ breathing patterns and heart rates to sync up. More importantly, the parties will  “…build rapport, connect and find common ground…” (Id. at PONS blog). Consequently, we will find the other more persuasive and honest. (Id.)

A second scenario is the power of images. Citing the example of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a German who successfully passed himself off as a member of the Rockefeller family for many years, this blog post reminds us that we “…tend to automatically trust those we meet- and adjust our perceptions only in the fact of overwhelming evidence.” (Id.) That is, visual cues as in the “fake” Rockefeller, guide our behavior.

And more times than  not, we do not look for the non-verbal cues; for example, is someone’s facial expression matching what she is saying or is she saying “yes” while nodding “No?” (Id.) Is she claiming to be surprised, yet her facial expression does not match it? To figure out if someone is lying, ask the question in several different ways at several different times.

A third scenario is “micro-expressions” – “-fleeting, involuntary signs of one’s genuine emotions, such as a blush or grimace- that might tip others off to our thoughts. “ (Id.)  For example, we may be truly impatient, but on the surface, we are smiling through gritted teeth. Our micro expression of frustration or impatience will reveal our true feelings…if the other is astute enough to pick up on the micro-expression. The bad news is that while you may have trouble preventing micro-expressions and thus hiding your true feelings, the good news is that most people are not astute enough to pick up on the micro expression. (Id.)   What you are REALLY thinking will, more times than not, stay safely within you.

So, the next time you are in a negotiation, pay more attention to the body language and tone of voice than to the words; your chances of reaching a resolution will greatly improve.

… Just something to think about


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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