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Effects of Body Language in Negotiations

Kanika Saran*


Charlie Chaplin was one of the most successful actors and a pioneer of non-verbal communication. He used body language to connect with his audience. During negotiations, a negotiator constantly questions what expressions, gestures or posture to use next, which will result in giving a positive impression to the opposite negotiator. The body constantly gives signals consciously or unconsciously; it cannot be turned off or resisted. A negotiator should see the hidden intention behind the words through verbal communication and understand the deception or honest opinion through non-verbal communication. To understand and interpret the non-verbal communication correctly and to the benefit of the negotiator, proper training will help the negotiator slowly improve such skills. This will help the negotiator to communicate effectively and efficiently

Communication through body language in Negotiations

The body language of a negotiator can be used to reveal the candid interpretation of words, emotional state, and whether or not they complement the words.[1]

a) Body language while preparing for a negotiation

Preparation for negotiation is extremely critical and helps the negotiator plan and prepare his strategy for the negotiation. It involves preparing a written framework while visualizing how the negotiation will proceed. Negotiators generally prepare to position their verbal statements carefully to achieve their goal of ascertaining the interest of the other side or understanding their true intent. In order to achieve the desired outcome, it is equally important to pre-plan and engage in non-verbal communication methods that will have the maximum impact on achieving a collaborative agreement. When people enter into a negotiation, they enter with an intent to turn the negotiation in their favor and fulfil their interest. Therefore, the ability to move a negotiator from a positional negotiator to a principled negotiator is not easy and can only be achieved by understanding and developing a relationship with the other side through verbal and non-verbal communication.

b) Body language during negotiation

  1. Facial expressions

Facial expressions reveal our emotional character. The strong cultural and social environment of a person is relevant in suppressing such emotions.[2]

In Japan, suppressing emotions is considered to be a characteristic of self-control and having continuous ‘eye contact’ during a conversation is measured to be an emotion of anger.[3] Therefore, bearing in mind the significance of facial expressions in cross-cultures negotiations, a negotiator should learn to mould himself, and keep confident facial expressions to establish positive interactions between the negotiators.

  1. Body movements

Body orientation and posture can be relevant during negotiations. The position of sitting up straight, leaning forward[4], and facing the counterpart at an angle can play a pivotal role [5] in developing a rapport with the other side to reach a mutually gainful agreement.

  1. Gestures

To develop a rapport, a negotiator should imbibe non-verbal cues like open-handed gestures, open arms, head nod, and eye contact.[6] When a negotiator tries to match or mirror the hand movements, gestures or head nods of the opposite negotiator in order to develop an understanding towards a collaborative approach is called the theory of matching and mirroring. Therefore, this theory of matching and mirroring aids in developing rapport to achieve a mutually beneficial resolution of the dispute. This similarity in movements signals empathy, positivity between the negotiators as well as the development of connection in communications.[7] Thus, subtle mirroring of the opposite negotiator is not considered as mocking the other side, in fact, it serves to bridge gap and aims to develop understanding and relationship. Mirroring or mimicry in negotiations is a sign that both sides are striving to build a rapport to connect and find a common ground for mutual gain.[8] Moreover, eye contact is a powerful tool of communication and conveys openness, sincerity, and leads to a perception of trust.[9]

  1. Active listening

Joe Navarro states that “attentive listening is important to understand what is said in words, careful monitoring of vital importance in order to understand people’s body language.[10] According to Navarro, the emphasis on monitoring is essential to understand the people correctly and to clarify informative signs of their non-verbal behavior.[11] If a negotiator repeats back what the other person says to him, it is considered to be one of the essential techniques of active listening[12] as it makes the other feel that his thoughts and ideas are acknowledged and appreciated.

Effect of body language in Negotiations

Researches have observed that negotiations are successful when the negotiators share positive emotions among themselves.[13] Positive emotions lead to pleasant interventions while negative emotions and thoughts lead to negative feedback.[14] In presence of negative emotion, the negotiators behave with anger and frustration and there is a higher probability of them being dishonest, threatening, and breaking down the agreement.[15] Therefore, the awareness of non-verbal communication assists a negotiator to understand the behavior of the person in consonance with his emotion. If the behavior of the person is not consistent, the negotiator can separate the identity of the person from the emotions.

a) The length and type of relationship

Non-verbal communication consciously or unconsciously sends cues to the truthful opinion of the person.[16] Humans have a habit to change their body language as per their thinking, however, they will find it difficult to switch the body language in accordance with spoken words. During a negotiation if a person is being a difficult negotiator, has a grumpy expression, and is pretending to listen without understanding, it will be very difficult for both sides to develop a relationship of trust with lasting commitment.

b) Mode of communications when words fail

Emotions play a significant role in building a relationship of trust. However, anger and frustration can collapse the entire process and disrupt the relationship between the negotiators.

c) Option generation

Brainstorming is significant for generating options in a negotiation, but it may not be successful always due to individual differences. Considering the emotions, intentions, and interests of the opposite negotiator, non-verbal awareness assists in creating options that generate positive emotions while giving due regard to the independent opinion.[17]

d) Prioritizing arguments

Non-verbal information equally helps in prioritizing significant arguments as it does in selecting options and tactics to be used. To be collaborative and cooperative, negotiators adopt different approaches to meet their interests through ‘objective criteria’.[18] Therefore, a negotiator should use this information to recognize which particular ‘criteria’ or ‘norm’ will help him persuade the opposite negotiator to reach an agreement.


The significance of non- verbal communication is more relevant when the opposite negotiator is from a different culture and does not speak the same language. In this scenario, a negotiator has to be careful in using his body gestures in support of his communication. In Singapore, the Chinese are very soft-spoken and subtle as compared to Indians. Thus, culture can make a positive as well as a negative impact. Even if body gestures are not express, subconsciously, a person can make a movement which might not be appreciated by the opposite negotiator. These subtle gestures can have a greater impact on the mind of the opposite negotiator than one may expect when compared to their own culture.

Body language reflects the personality of a person. Awareness about body language is essential to adapt the social environment. Thus, while negotiating, a negotiator should be in control of his body language to transmit a positive impression to the opposite negotiator.

* The author is is presently working at Zeus Law as an Associate. She has completed her BA.LLB(Hons) from Amity Law School Delhi affiliated to Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (2016) and her LLM in International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution from National University of Singapore (2020). She can be reached via her LinkedIn.

[1]Kęstutis Peleckis, Valentina Peleckienė, Kęstutis Peleckis, Tatjana Polajeva, Towards Sustainable Entrepreneurship: Role of Non – verbal Communications in Business Negotiations, The International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Sustainability 228-230, Volume 4 Issue No.2, 2016.

[2] Baden Ian Eunson, Communicating in the 21st Century (Chapter – Nonverbal Communication), (3rd Edition, John Wiley and Sons, Australia, 2012)

[3] Hironori Akechi, Atsushi Senju, Helen Uibo, Yukiko Kikuchi, Toshikazu Hasegawa, Jari K. Hietanen, Attention to Eye Contact in the West and East: Autonomic Responses and Evaluative Ratings, Plos One Journal (13th March, 2013) <

[4]Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal, Non – verbal Communication, Encyclopedia of Mental Health 775-782, (Harvard University, 1998).

[5] Peter A. Andersen, Non – verbal communication: forms and functions (2nd Edition, Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press,2007)

[6] Leigh L. Thompson, Non – verbal Communication and the Skills of Effective Mediators: Developing Rapport, Building Trust, and Displaying Professionalism (doctoral thesis), (Griffith University, Brisbane, 2015)

[7] Andersen, Supra. n.5

[8]Pon Staff, Using body language in Negotiation- Understanding body language in negotiation helps you become a more effective negotiator, Program on Negotiation: Daily Blog, Harvard Law School (12th August, 2019) < >

[9] Stevens A. Beebe, Effects of Eye Contact, Posture, and Vocal Inflection Upon Credibility and Comprehension, Phd thesis, University of Missouri, Columbia, 1976.

[10]Kestutis Peleckis, Valentina Peleckiene, Non – verbal Communication in Business Negotiation and Business Meetings, International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences 62-72, 29th October, 2015.

[11] Ibid. at 67.

[12]Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991)

[13] Clark Freshman, Adele Hayes, Greg Feldman, The Lawyer-Negotiator as Mood Scientist: What We Know and Don’t Know About How Mood Relates to Successful Negotiation, Journal of Dispute Resolution 1-79, Issue No.1 (2002)

[14] Fisher, Ury, Patton, Supra. n.12.

[15] Joseph P. Forgas, On feeling good and getting your way: Mood effects on negotiator cognition and bargaining strategies, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 565-577, April, 1998.

[16] Ibid. at 572.

[17] Daniel Shapiro, Roger Fisher, Building Agreement: Using Emotions as You Negotiate, (Random House Business, London, 2007)

[18] Fisher, Supra n.12.

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