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Nonverbal Communication in Negotiation
Jeff Thompson, Noam Ebner & Jeff Giddings
Editors’ Note: The authors first review the research indicating that what most negotiating advice focuses on—what should be said or written, and how, and when—amounts to about 7% of communication. The other 93% is nonverbal....and is mostly ignored by proponents of better negotiation. They then set out to remedy this situation by analyzing different modes of nonverbal communication, and offering a matrix of ways to understand it, and to employ it more consciously and more effectively.
A sharp knock on the door interrupts your thoughts. You rise from your desk, open the door, and greet Amy with a smile. She extends a handshake, and you lead her in to the office. You see her eyes taking in the view, noting the freshly-arranged flowers in the corner, and focusing on your desk. Her head moves inquisitively between your desk and the small meeting table you have in the corner, and you offer her a seat at the desk. You sit down opposite her, pouring her a glass of water from a jug. As you do, she opens her leather portfolio and extracts her documents, arranging them in three neat piles across her side of the desk. She lays a notepad and a pen on top of them, and suggests you get started. You nod, and gesture for her to go ahead. She discusses the deal your two companies are considering, and outlines the remaining points requiring conclusion; that is the point of your meeting today. You nod as she speaks, particularly as she reaches the third item—the deal-breaker, as far as you’re concerned. Having finished describing the agenda, she pauses, awaiting your input.
You play it cool, suggesting you discuss the items in order, one by one. You lean forward, and explain your company’s needs with regards to the first issue. Your voice is clear and steady, and you can tell she is following along closely and attentively. She asks you a question, and you have to admit you don’t know the answer to it. You resume discussing your stance, only your voice is now a little softer. She writes something on a pad, and as she continues to listen to you, she spins the pen around on her pad. She laughs in agreement with something you said, and nods as she says her company could probably go along with what you offered. You sit back in your seat, satisfied that things are working out well, and then she looks you in the eye and tells you that there is no way that her company is going to give in on the third point. Unprepared for this, you clear your throat, and start to respond—but her voice overrides yours, explaining how her company sees that point. You wonder if she is bluffing, knowing how important this issue is to you and holding out for more in return—but something gives you the sense she is telling the truth. You know that the whole deal hinges on how the next few minutes go, and wonder what might make the difference here. You lean forward, and...
A lot has happened, in the few minutes that have passed. Information about the deal and each company’s positions and interests has been shared. A future relationship has materialized—and now seems to hang in the balance.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, however, of the information that has been communicated. In fact, so much information was communicated between you and Amy that only a small portion of it made its way into your consciousness for processing and analysis. However, your decision-making process, your behavior, and your internal dialog were affected by a much larger portion of this information. What is all that information—and how do we capture and decode it?
In this chapter, we will attempt to pull back the veil of ambiguity that surrounds this information—the nonverbal content of communication—by spotlighting its different components and identifying the cues providing clues to its interpretation. We also aim to clear up a secondary cause of confusion with regard to processing this information, through...
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