Chapter 2 - Reading and Using Body Language to Your Advantage

The author refers to an impromptu experiment, in which students presenting business plans in a competition were observed for qualities such as tonal variety, vocal nuances, physical activity, energy level, and gestures - and that the evaluation of these factors predicted "with near perfect accuracy" which of the presentations would win the competition. This suggests that there is a strong connection between nonverbal communication and success.

(EN: It's really a chicken-and-egg argument. Some would imply that it is the nonverbal, rather than the content of the presentation, that had most influence over the judges. Others would argue that the presenters who recognized that their ideas were making a positive impression became more animated in their delivery. Either way, it works out in the author's favor, because even in the latter case the presenter was reading and responding to nonverbal communication - and though the claim for causation is rather weak, there is clear evidence of correlation between success and nonverbal language.)

Every aspect of leadership requires some form of negotiation. In essence, any social activity at all requires negotiation, as they require getting others to consent to take specific actions - and business is no different: convincing colleagues to support (or refrain from interfering) in a plan, motivating employees to do their part, making deals with customers and suppliers, and virtually any activity that is done in business requires influencing others.

Proficiency in negotiation requires both verbal and nonverbal communication skills - because in any communication you are sending messages over both channels simultaneously. It is also fairly constant, as close observation of negotiations have observed that "in a thirty-minute negotiation, two people can send over eight hundred different nonverbal signals." (EN: Such a high number seemed specious to me, so I tried to check on the source - the link the author provides is no longer in existence, but points to a site that seems to be a two-person consultancy that sells negotiation books and training courses, so it's likely neither objective nor scientific.)

She further suggests that "if you focus on the verbal exchange alone ... you stand a high chance of coming away from that negotiation wondering why your brilliantly constructed bargaining plan didn't work."

Four Tips for Reading Body Language

People who hear about body language interpretation often become uncomfortable, believing that others can detect their thoughts and motives at a glance - but this is entirely a myth. It's not mind reading, merely being attentive to signals that others are sending.

What's more, everyone does it, often without even knowing they are doing it. However, they are often doing it quite badly. If anything, you should be more at ease speaking to someone who has knowledge about body language because it increases their ability to understand you correctly.

First Tip: Pay Attention

The greatest weakness that most people have is simply their inattentiveness: they enter a conversation with their own assumptions about what the other person will say and listen only for signals that confirm, or they are simply not interested enough in what the other person is saying.

She also notes that people are so uncomfortable with communicating that they will use props - hand out a document or use a slideshow to call attention away from themselves. "The next time your opponent presents a written document for you to read ... instead ask him to tell you what it says, and watch his body language as he does. You'll learn so much more."

(EN: a personal practice of mine is to resist the urge to look at a slide presentation - instead of the screen, fix your gaze on the speaker, and look to the screen only if they call attention to something that is shown. Most times I've found that the slideshow was entirely unnecessary and added nothing to the presentation.)

Second Tip: Identify a Baseline

Another highly useful practice is to observe a person for a while before making judgments about their body language. If you fail to do this, you are most likely going to misinterpret signals. This may take just a few minutes to get a feel for the other person's natural behaviors, such that you can focus attention on those things that break the pattern.

Key things to observe:

For example, if a person seems tense and speaks tersely from the very beginning of the conversation, then tension is not necessarily a sign of anything - but if they are generally relaxed and suddenly become tense, you can sense that something is unusual.

Third Tip: Evaluate Gestural Clusters

A single gesture may not be meaningful - it's like trying to understand a sentence by taking a single word and ignoring all the rest. However, when there are multiple movements, postures, or actions that reinforce a common point, the interpretation can be very reliable. The author suggests that you look for at least three signals that reinforce the same message before putting much faith in your interpretation.

For example, a person's fidgeting may simply mean that they are physically uncomfortable - but if they are fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, and pointing their feet toward the door, it is a fairly clear indication that they are psychologically uncomfortable.

Fourth Tip: Consider the Context

The author provides a number of examples of situations in which people cross their arms - it doesn't always mean that they are attempting to close themselves off from others. If the room is cold, or they're sitting in a chair without armrests, etc.

Gestures may also pertain to the relationship between two individuals, regardless of the conversation they are having. "Bosses" often seem closed off and indifferent to subordinates, and women often act in a defensive manner around me, regardless of what they happen to be talking about.

Are They with You or Against You?

Signs that indicate engagement or disengagement are among the most important ones to monitor in a negotiation. Engagement behaviors indicate interest, receptiveness, or agreement to what you are proposing, whereas disengagement success resistance or disinterest. These signals tend to appear in clusters, such that you are likely to notice them if you know what to look for, and can rather quickly confirm your suspicions.

She mentions that, just in observation, she has noticed that parties are more likely to reach an agreement if they display engagement signals from the beginning - and suggests that this occurs regardless of whether the display was conscious.

A person's eyes are very expressive - a flurry of random bits follow:

Observations about the head, face, and neck:

Observation about hands and arms:

Observation about shoulders and torso:

Observations about feet and legs:

Dealing With the Disengaged

When someone is exhibiting disengagement signals, the author suggests there are six responses:

  1. First, check your own posture to make sure that you are not signaling disengagement to them as well - they may merely be reacting.
  2. Find a way to make them move or desist. If a person has their arms crossed, hand them something that will require them to reach toward you.
  3. Change your approach to the topic, recognizing that the angle at which you're coming isn't striking a chord with them.
  4. Mention the other person's attitude, or ask about it directly.
  5. Consider whether you should do anything at all. Sometimes disengaging a person or irritating them slightly can work in your favor.
  6. Watch for a signal of disengagement to stop or change.

Detecting Dishonesty

In negotiations, "bluffing" is very common, and it is often much easier to deal with them (or more appropriately, to get what you want with them) when you can recognize deception. Unfortunately, lies are difficult to detect - much of the guidance for recognizing dishonesty merely observes behavior that arises from anxiety. Most people are anxious when being dishonest (they are not ethically comfortable, or at least fear being exposed) - but this does not mean that the only cause of anxiety is dishonesty.

With that caution, the author provides a number of body-language cues of anxiety:

In all of these instances, establishing a baseline is critical to determining when a given behavior is unusual for a given individual.

Body Language Guidelines for Negotiators

Nonverbal communication works both ways: nto only will you be observing your partner's nonverbal behaviors, chances are he will also be assessing yours, and may be more skilled and experienced at doing so.

The author offers five random tips:

  1. Be particularly aware of your behavior in the first seven seconds, which is when the first impression (which can be lasting) is formed.
  2. It's important to give a sense of "energy" in negotiating. Especially when you are tired or frustrated, display strength in your posture, sending signals of being at ease and enthusiastic
  3. Upon greeting someone, open your eyes slightly larger than usual, which will trigger signals of recognition and welcome
  4. Make eye contact when greeting someone. A common piece of advice is to attempt to discover and remember the eye color of everyone you meet - remembering it is not really important, but gazing long enough to notice it is - and instantly makes you more likeable to those you meet.
  5. Work on your handshake. It's a simple formality, but physical contact is one of the most primitive methods of making connections with others.

And then a couple more random tips:

Finally, getting body language right means matching your words and gestures. You will not always be in a position of advantage, and cannot use nonverbal communication alone to turn a situation to your advantage. It emphasizes, but does not substitute for, your spoken messages.