top of page

Relevance of Non-Verbal Communication in Negotiation

Kanika Saran*


While you wait for your interview, a senior partner entered into the meeting room, you rise from the chair and greet her with a smile. She extends a handshake and leads you into her office. You sit down opposite her and open your leather folder, extract your resume along with your written paper, and start arranging them. You noticed her eyes taking the view of your attire and how you have placed your documents. She opened her notepad, held a pen, and suggested you to start. Her nod and gesture were a go-ahead signal for you. She nodded as you spoke and seemed inquisitive to know about your work profile. She asked you a question of how you could fulfil the needs of the position and leaned towards you, awaiting your input. You were nervous but you leaned forward and with a clear voice, you explained her the scope of your work and your reasons for applying to the firm. You were not sure whether she was following along or paying attention as she was restlessly moving the pen and did not maintain an eye contact while you spoke. She asked you another question to which you did not know the answer. Your voice went softer but you tried to justify that you were a good bet for the position. However, you could sense that even though her words gave an impression that she seemed interested, her body language conveyed the opposite, which was confusing. Subsequently, she cracked a joke about her law school days and said that she could relate to you. At this point, you sat back in your chair and thought to yourself that things will work out well from herein after. However, she sat straight, looked at you into your eyes, and said she could not offer you the position at this moment. In the spur of the moment, you sat straight and cleared your voice, however, her voice overtook yours. You thought that the position might not be available now and she might be able to offer you the same in the future. You knew the next few minutes could help you materialize your relationship with her. You leaned forward and asked her to accommodate you for another time.

Information was exchanged, positions and interests were discussed. A future relationship had almost been materialized and was now hanging in the middle. This was just the tip of the iceberg. After sharing information, your mind had only processed and analyzed a part of it, although, you realized that your behavior and your body language was changing with the larger part of it. A person’s mind needs to interpret the information and process the relevant information without affecting the body language drastically. But how does a person decode the information?

Connecting body language to the information helps to provide a solution to the confusion behind this information. Non-verbal communication is as important as verbal communication. Both forms of communication are like hand and glove and should complement each other. If one form of communication is conveying a different meaning, it leads to ambiguity and confusion.

Communication is a significant element of Negotiation

Communication includes both verbal and non-verbal elements. While it is easier to emphasize the meaning behind words, an effective body language is equally essential for successful communication.[1] Researchers have defined non-verbal communication as “encompassing almost all of human communication except the spoken or written word”.[2] Non-verbal communication is the first opportunity to communicate and to create an impression in the other person’s mind. A negative body language can change the course of the communication completely irrespective of the words spoken. Albert Mehrabian (researcher in non-verbal communication) has stated that nearly 93% of the communication is non-verbal and only 7% is verbal.[3] Mehrabian conducted a study in the year 1972 and observed that 93% of non- verbal communication includes 55% of body language and 38% of voice.[4] Researchers have stated that non-verbal communication is more honest and has a stronger impact than communication through words.[5] For a successful negotiation, it is imperative for a negotiator to have effective communication skills. Facial expressions, movements, gestures, eye contact, body posture communicates a person’s intentions and ideas before words.

Negotiation is a “larger-than-life communication”, where everything a person does or does not do sends an indication or signal to the opposite negotiator.[6] In a negotiation, non-verbal communication is not only restricted to body language but also includes appearance, posture, attire as well as cultural norms.[7] Every human interaction, communication, and conversation is not only based on the sharing of information, but it is based on how it is presented. Specifically, in a negotiation process, if a negotiator is uptight, hesitant to share information, and has a closed body language, it will be understood that the person is a positional negotiator, irrespective of the words stated by him. As a negotiator, one needs to be careful to match the body language with the words and thinking to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. What a person conveys is not what the other person will always understand. What is conveyed will be based on the response from the other side. Thus, the loss of the appropriate signals in the context of the words spoken could be termed as an ‘interaction loss’ and has been observed to be one of the biggest challenges to the negotiation process.[8] Leigh Thompson states that a solid understanding of a variety of aspects of a non-verbal negotiation is essential for being “a better reader and a better sender” for an effective communication.[9] He further analyzed that the body language of a negotiator can help detect deception on his part.[10] However, a negotiator should not make his presumptions about the opposite negotiator solely based on body language. Thus, inconsistency between body language and the intention of the person can lead to disadvantageous interpretations by the opposite negotiator. Therefore, a negotiator should keep his body language positive and effective during negotiation.

Non-verbal communication in Negotiations

While communicating in any social interaction, humans make body movements for few reasons; to feel comfortable while talking, using hand movements to make a point or explain something, and to portray what they think and feel.[11] Generally, change in movements, facial expressions and gestures allows a person to have a more genuine impression of the person’s state of mind including feelings, attitudes, indifferences, moods, intentions, negative and positive feelings as well as the thought process.[12] Thus, non-verbal communication affects everything conjointly with verbal communication and one cannot separate body language from human conversations.


Words only consist of 7% of the body language. They are considered to be the language wrapped around the presuppositions. In negotiations, presuppositions are considered as suitable assumptions or views, which are reasonable and generally practical to assume. Presuppositions constitute a hidden clue which is necessary to understand the meaning of the sentence. Therefore, it can be said that body language has a greater overall effect on negotiations and it can change the course of the negotiations. A negotiator cannot control the negotiation process, irrespective of how prepared he is, but a successful negotiator can control a nexus between his body language and his thinking.

Non-verbal communication involves ‘attending’ behavior which is significant for a collaborative conversation like negotiation.[13] While negotiating, a negotiator’s body language shall express an attentive behavior towards the viewpoint of the opposite negotiator as well as for building trust and nurturing positive emotions. The reaction of the opposite negotiator in a negotiation is a ‘micro cue’, which when observed in clusters of cues, along with the overall behavior might affect the chances of reaching a collaborative agreement and having a successful negotiation.[14]

* 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] Robert Stephen Feldman, Benrnard Rime, Fundamentals of Non- Behaviour (Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction) (Cambridge University Press, 1991).

[2] Mark L. Knapp, Non- Verbal Communication in Human Interaction (2nd ed, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972)

[3] Albert Mehrabian, Silent Messages – A Wealth of Information about Non- Vernal Communication (Body Language) (Self- published: Los Angeles, CA, 2009, retrieved on 6th April, 2010)

[4] Albert Mehrabian, Non- Verbal Communication 226 (Chicago, Illinois: Aldine- Atherton, 1972); Also See, Albert Mehrabian, Silent Messages – A Wealth of Information about Non- Vernal Communication (Body Language) (Self- published: Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1971)

[5] Miles L. Patterson, More than Words: The Power of Non- Verbal Communication (Spain: Aresta, Maria Àngels V, 2010); Also See, Judee K Burgoon, Laura K Guerrero, Kory Floyd, Non- Verbal Communication (Illustrated edn., Allyn &​ Bacon, 2010.

[6] Nadja Alexander, Jill Howieson, Kenneth Fox, Negotiation Strategy Style Skills 106 (3rd edn. Chatswood, New South Wales: LexisNexis Butterworths, 2015).

[7] Id. at 120.

[8] Anita D. Bhappu, Zoe I Barsness, Risks of Email in the Negotiator’s Fieldbook: The Desk Reference for the Experienced Negotiator 395 -400 (edited by A. K. Schneider and C. Honeyman, Washington DC: American Bar Association, 2006).

[9] Leigh L. Thompson, Mind and Heart of the Negotiator 340 (3rd edn., Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004).

[10]Id at 340; Also see, Pail Ekman, Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace Politics and Marriage (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992)

[11]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 Issues, Issue No.2, Vol. 4,2016.

[12]Amit Kumar Kar, Ajit Kumar Kar, How to Walk Your Talk: Effective Use of Body Language for Business Professionals, IUP Journal of Soft Skills 16-28, Volume 11 Issue 1, 2017.

[13]Roy Lewicki, Bruce Barry, David Saunders, Essentials of Negotiation (5th edn., McGraw-Hill Education, 2010).

[14]Jeff Thompson, Noam Ebner, Jeff Giddings, Non – verbal Communication in Negotiation, Social Science Research Network Legal Scholarship Network, Griffith Law School, Griffith University

4 views0 comments


bottom of page