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Body Language Dread – How to Avoid Disaster When Negotiating

“To avoid disasters, recognize what they look like and avoid actions that lead to them.” -Greg Williams, The Master Negotiator & Body Language Expert

“… He touched his knee! I thought, what does that mean? I #dread trying to read body language when negotiating!” An associate recounted her thoughts to me when discussing how she was attempting to avoid disaster during a negotiation. She wanted to understand and decipher the meaning of an individual’s body language. I told her, the gesture could have meant anything, nothing, or everything. Then, I went on to explain that one isolated body language gesture does not necessarily lend insight into someone’s emotions or thoughts – you must look at a cluster of gestures for that. I then stated, there’s an exception – it occurs when you’re observing micro-expressions.

Observe the body language gestures below. Cross-reference them to gain greater insight into the meaning they have when they’re clustered. That will grant you the insight into someone’s thoughts and what might have caused them. Being able to accurately detect these signals will enhance your negotiation abilities.

Crossed Arms:

Crossed arms by themselves does not mean that someone is unapproachable or close-minded. It could mean that the person is cold. Also, women tend to cross their arms more than men because of their anatomy.

To gain more insight about why someone crossed their arms, note the stimuli that caused it. To test their demeanor, say or ask something that will cause them to uncross their arms (e.g. that’s a nice watch – may I see it). Then, notice if they go back into their crossed arms position. If they do, you can test again with another question. After that, if they still cross their arms, you’ll have more information to make a better assessment of their demeanor.


Movement – When someone speaks, note the timing of their hand movement. If it’s rhythmically aligned with their speech, subliminally, more believability will be lent to their words.

Handshakes – A handshake can connote hidden meanings (e.g. hands vertical to each other, we’re equal – hand on top, I’m superior). Never fall prey to the hidden meanings of handshakes. Good negotiators may intentionally allow someone to have the ‘upper hand’ as a ploy to convey subservience.

Fist – When a discussion becomes heated, observe when someone’s hand forms a fist. The fist can denote deepening anger or commitment in what’s being discussed. If the stimuli that caused the fist to be displayed was unintended, seek to de-escalate the conversation.


A genuine smile is denoted by crow’s feet at the corner of the eyes and elevated cheeks. It’s important to recognize the distinction from non-genuine smiles. Knowing the difference can assist in uncovering someone’s alignment.


There are seven micro-expressions that are generic to everyone on earth. Thus, the stimuli applied to someone in Asia will have the same effect applied to someone in Europe, or anywhere else in the world. The seven micro-expressions are:

  1. Fear (eyebrows raised, wide eyes, lips slightly stretched & parted, bottom lip protruding downward)
  2. Anger (eyebrows down and together, eyes glare, narrowing of the lips)
  3. Disgust (lifting of the upper lip, scrunching of the nose)
  4. Surprise (raised eyebrows, wide eyes, open mouth)
  5. Contempt (one side of the lip raised and pulled in on one side of the face)
  6. Sadness (upper eyelids drooping, eyes unfocused, lips slightly turned down)
  7. Happiness (crow’s feet wrinkle around eyes, cheeks elevated, eye orbit muscle movement)

Misinterpreting someone’s body language can lead to unanticipated consequences. To assure that doesn’t occur to you, observe the gestures above when they’re clustered.

While reading body language is not a perfect science, it can give clues into someone’s thought process. Knowing what to look for, and interpreting nonverbal signals accurately, can help you avoid disasters when you negotiate … and everything will be right with the world.

Remember, you’re always negotiating!

After reading this article, what are you thinking? I’d really like to know. Reach me at Greg@TheMasterNegotiator.com

To receive Greg’s free “Negotiation Tip of the Week” and the “Sunday Negotiation Insight” click here http://www.TheMasterNegotiator.com/greg-williams/

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