The key elements of words, tone and body language (including facial expressions) have been commented in previous blogs on communication. Keep in mind no one is perfect on interpreting facial or body language, but there are steps you can take to address your own. There are also steps you can take to improve your interpretation and understanding of others. In the commentary that follows insights on body language and facial expressions in negotiations are explored. These can be critical in a negotiation.


Following the other’s lead


Have you ever noticed how your body language takes on a similar form to the other party when you are both on the same page? That is if the other party leans in and smiles you tend to lean in and smile too. Think of your reactions with friends.

Now move onto a negotiation. If they cross their legs you tend to cross your legs too. If they are relaxed and lean back you tend to do the same. There is a reason for this.

When we are comfortable with others, we tend to take on the same body language.

Think about this in a negotiation. If you begin to take on similar attributes as the other party, may that help the other party become more comfortable and relaxed? It may. If that happens might the negotiation become more fluid and more dynamic? Might listening improve? Upon discovering interests, it may be possible to work together to address each other’s interests. Think how simply being conscious of this one thing may help with the negotiation.

Instead of trying to refute the other side, focus on reaffirming their concerns.

Validate their concerns Let them know you are listening.

 Summarize what they say better than they said it themselves. This demonstrates active listening.

The Collaboration Effect ® incorporates connecting relationships, actively listening and educating judiciously to work toward negotiating closure.  All of these involve working with the other party to understand interest to work towards a win-win solution. When you mimic the other party, this helps with connecting and demonstrates listening. Understand this and work with this in a negotiation.

Remember it is up to you to realize this is important and then to take action. By being conscious of body language and facial expressions it is possible to control yours and observe theirs. When observing theirs notice the elements being brought up here. You will become a better negotiator with practice.


What about trust?


A lot has been written about trust. We tend to initially trust others.

We tend to trust new people we meet. When negotiating it is important to build trust.  

This is what we hope for in a negotiation. Since this is our natural tendency what should we do?

Trust but verify if what Ronald Regan said about the former Soviet Union and what became Russia. It is the philosophy of the IRS and other auditors as well. Once they find that statements cannot be verified the level of proof required increases significantly. aWe want to trust. We hope to trust. When we can trust the other person, everything seems to move much smoother. As such we hope for the best. However, as we have learned over time, plan for the worst.

Ask more questions. Ask more specific questions. Dive in deeper. As some say, “leave no stone unturned”. Make sure you fully understand the who, what, when, where, why and how related to the negotiation. Include both tangibles and intangibles. Ask what happens if… Make sure you fully understand. Along the way make sure you document what you understand. Later if necessary (and it usually is), make sure incorporate what you documented in the final agreement.

Once you believe it you have an agreement in principle, make sure to bring on the right people to make sure you dot your “I’s” and cross your “T’s”. aThis is the time to make sure the attorneys are involved and other experts as necessary to address anything the negotiating team may have missed, before finalizing any agreement.

From police criminal drama’s you have seen the police ask multiple questions and come back to earlier questions several times. The question may change slightly. The need is to determine if the story changes or not. In the same way consider using this technique (in a far less hostile way) in the negotiation. Again, explore facial expressions and body language for changes. When there are, this may be a sign of an underlying concern. When that happens again dig deeper with the intention of understanding.

Do not focus on blame. Instead focus on understanding. Show concern and empathize with the other party to draw out the concerns.


Patience and professionalism


We all know the advantage to remaining calm under pressure. We may look like it on the outside, but inside we may really be churning. You may be putting on a good face while being angry, frustrated, or irritated with the other party. Although you may be a good actor, or you think you are, your facial and body language may be giving you away. What can you do? Be careful. Researchers have found when we give answers that are not genuine, we display inconsistent facial expressions. We blink more. It is hard to maintain a lie.

Realize you may have a hard time hiding your true feelings. The same is true for the other side. The other side may be better or worse at doing this than you. It is good to know that just as we tend to be trusting the same is true of the other side.

Understand cultural differences. Don’t apply your culture or assume norms.

Mediating in New York on Western Long Island two parties use the F bomb word very loosely with each other. This was the way they each understood each other. Understanding this as the mediator, I simply asked if the parties agreed to be professional with each other as initial ground rules. They agreed. To them with their culture the F bomb word was just the way the two parties spoke to one another. It was necessary for me to adjust to their thinking, words and tone. They were good with this. The same approach would not have been acceptable in other areas of the country. Understand your audience.




As with any negotiation, practice is the key. Think what you need to do to prepare for the negotiation. Meet with your team and go over how you believe the negotiation may proceed. Discuss all the various questions you may want to consider.

Check out this check list.

Who may respond? How will that person or you respond. Think about the ramifications ahead of time. Have a plan on who will say what. Realize it is simply a plan, but give it real thought. Practice. Once the negotiation commences the plan will need to be adapted to address the actual circumstances.


So, there it is. Be conscious of your and the other party’s words, tone, body language and facial expressions. Work towards mimicking behaviors. Follow their lead. Work on connecting and really listening. Develop trust. Be prepared. Practice ahead of time and develop alternatives with an idea of who will address what during the negotiation process. In the end, take yourself seriously, but not to seriously and be prepared to adapt to the situation.

If you would like to know more check out this source from the Harvard Program on Negotiations addressing How Body Language Affects Negotiations.


About the author


Mike is a professional speaker, negotiator and mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including Business Valuations and the IRS: Five Books in One, The Servant Manager and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]