“Shoulder shrugs expose secret information. Notice them to detect their secrets.” -Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator & Body Language Expert
Have you heard the cliché, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”? If you have, do you subscribe to it? If you do, you shouldn’t. Because, a lack of knowledge can expose you to scary secrets in a negotiation – secrets that can bite you at the most unsuspecting points in the negotiation. But, there’s one way you can protect yourself. How – by accurately interpreting the meaning of shoulder shrugs when you negotiate.
Shoulder shrugs convey secret information. They expose hidden thoughts of the person that’s attempting to hide those thoughts.
Observe the following shoulder shrug examples. You’ll obtain hidden information that those shrugs attempt to conceal.
When a person displays a shoulder shrug, it can represent a multitude of hidden meanings. It can be a sign of reluctance (i.e. what more do you expect of me) – a sign of protection (i.e. I’m not going to stick my neck out) – it can also be a sign of exasperation (i.e. I’m getting tired of this). Regardless of the hidden meaning, it gives additional insight into the thoughts of that person.
Single Shrug: A single shrug can denote a lack of full commitment in response to a question or statement made.
- When displaying a single shoulder shrug, a person will tend to favor their dominant side. This is important to note – because it adds additional meaning to the shrug. As an example, if someone that’s right-handed shrugs their left shoulder, he may be displaying less of a commitment to the response that caused the gesture. As with everything related to reading body language, you must establish someone’s body language foundation before you can accurately assess the validity of their actions.
Double Shrug: A double shrug (both shoulders elevated) can connote more commitment to a reply or statement.
As an example, if one elevated both shoulders while stating, “I didn’t do it”, she’d be displaying more commitment to the statement then if she displayed a single shrug – note: to discern the probability of the truth you should still probe deeper. The act of the shrug is that person’s commitment to her pronouncement at that moment – it can change with further probing.
- When someone performs a double shrug, that person’s hands provide additional insights. As an example, if an offer is made consisting of two items and the recipient says, “I don’t care”, while shrugging with one hand higher than the other, he’s nonverbally expressing a preference for one of the items – the preference lies in the order the items were offered or their proximity to the hand that’s higher.
Additional Shrug Meanings:
Hands: The movement of someone’s hands lends insights into their thoughts. To gather additional awareness per the meaning of a shrug, take note of …
- hands close to the body – indicates they’re guarded
- hands palms-up – signals they have less to conceal
- hands palms-down – they’re less accepting
- hands palms-up-and-out – says, keep away from me
Head Tuck: To observe how threatened someone might feel when they shrug, note the degree they protect their head when …
- head extends forward – says, I’ll challenge you
- head to one side – denotes preference
- head straight up – states, I’m willing to expose more of myself
- head tucked – says, I’m making myself less of a target
Of course, the additional shrug meanings can conceal someone’s real intent. That’s because good negotiators can affect this maneuver to add perceived emotional credibility to their effect.
Always note the length of time a shrug lasts and the number of times they occur. The length and number of times will indicate a person’s ever-changing degree of angst or determination to get you to back off. In all cases, they’ll be signaling information that you can use to enhance the negotiation.
Start noticing when, under what circumstances, and how frequently people shrug their shoulders. Doing that will increase your attentiveness and skills about this behavior. That will allow you to become a better negotiator … and everything will be right with the world.
Remember, you’re always negotiating!
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