When we talk about the key pillars of negotiation, many of us think about communication, asking questions, overcoming objections, and making a deal. But there’s another key aspect of negotiating that’s subtle and hidden unless you’re trained to pay attention to it: body language.
Good negotiators know there’s a lot we can learn from our counterparts’ body language – but is it still possible to pick up on those signals when we’re negotiating virtually?
In this blog, we’ll walk you through what body language can tell us and how to interpret those nonverbal signals in virtual negotiations. (Keep in mind that since we’re discussing body language, this article is only focusing on communications over video.)
What can body language tell us in a negotiation?
According to researcher Albert Mehrabian, face-to-face communication is 55% nonverbal (i.e. body language), 38% vocal, and 7% the words you speak.
If that’s the case, then anyone wanting to be a better negotiator should be investing significant time in understanding how to interpret others’ body language and how to convey meaning with their own.
What body language and nonverbal communication tells you during negotiations (even virtual ones)
1. Whether both parties want to find common ground
“After two or more negotiators have been in each other’s presence for just a few minutes, their behavior begins to subtly converge,” according to Harvard Business School professor Michael Wheeler. In other words, they start to mimic each other (i.e. crossing their legs, leaning back, etc). When this happens, it’s a sign that both sides are trying to connect, build rapport, and find common ground.
2. What the other party is really feeling
We’ve all had moments where we had to put on a smiling face even while feeling frustrated, sad, or any other emotion. But Dr. Paul Ekma discovered something called “micro-expressions”: the brief slip in the exterior – a grimace or a blush – that shows what we’re actually feeling. Paying attention to these can tell us someone’s true thoughts and feelings.
3. Whether to trust the other person
Body language can also give us information about someone’s trustworthiness and tip us off as to whether they’re being dishonest. Professor Maurice E. Schweitzer of the Wharton School at the University Of Pennsylvania has found that liars may struggle to match their facial expressions up with what they’re communicating. They may forget to add things like raised eyebrows, pitch changes, and gestures that occur naturally when someone is telling the truth.
Interpreting types of body language in virtual negotiations
There are a variety of body language signals we can use to better understand our negotiation counterparts. While some forms of nonverbal communication aren’t visible in a virtual environment (e.g. tapping the foot, crossing the legs), there is still plenty to work with.
1. Start with a baseline body language disposition
In order to read someone’s body language, you first need to have something to compare it to. You can build this baseline by noting someone’s body language when they are not speaking or are listening to someone other than you. Also try to observe them when they are not feeling stressed or pressured.
Those insights can then help you to gauge the differences in how the person responds to you or others during a negotiation.
2. Watch head, eye, and lip movements during virtual negotiations
Since the window of visibility into someone’s body language is smaller over video, you’ll want to focus especially on the other party’s head, eye, and lip movements. Watching how someone alters their appearance can tell you their thoughts on what’s being said in the meeting and allow you to make better connections.
- Head movements
Keep an eye out for head tilting (which can indicate someone being inquisitive, unsure about what they or someone else is saying, or in contemplation mode) and leaning in or away from the camera (shows interest or disinterest).
- Eye movements
A prolonged period of looking upward (especially combined with a head tilt) can indicate confusion or thought mode. An eye roll could be a signal of disbelief or annoyance.
- Lip movements
In a virtual environment, there tends to be more instances of people starting to talk at the same time (due to any delay and not being in the same room). Pay attention to when people’s lips start moving, as the silent gesture may mean they have something to say. As a show of good will, you could be sure to give them the floor, so to speak.
3. Look for engagement, disengagement, and stress behaviors appearing on the screen
In her book The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help--or Hurt--How You Lead, Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman discusses three types of signals we should be monitoring in the other person’s body language.
- Engagement behaviors
Eye contact, head nods, smiling, leaning forward, etc. These behaviors indicate interest, receptiveness, or agreement.
- Disengagement behaviors
Looking away, narrowing the eyes, leaning back, frowning, etc. These behaviors signal that a person is feeling bored, angry, or defensive.
- Stress behaviors
Higher vocal tone, face-touching, etc. These behaviors most often accompany bluffing or indicate discomfort with how the negotiation is proceeding.
Become a virtual negotiation expert with Sastrify
Sastrify knows how important the topic of virtual negotiation is for modern companies, because we help our customers with their negotiations and vendor management every day. Modern procurement involves countless SaaS vendor negotiations, and these days more and more of them are happening virtually.
That’s why our experts have developed tons of valuable resources on the topic of SaaS contract negotiation. From webinars to blogs to reports, we’ll help you become a virtual negotiation expert in no time.
Check out our negotiation resource hub here.