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In the first of our series on body language we covered handshakes and determined, that based on a stack of research (see: Silent Messages), that people based someone's credibility on factors other than the words that were said. A good handshake is critical to communicating confidence, strength, trust, and friendship.
Mastering your body language and non-verbals is a discipline you MUST pay attention to and that you MUST work on to improve your negotiations. This post is the second of 7 that will focus on the key body language skills you need to excel at negotiations. In this post, we uncover the value of posture and seating.
This series will cover:
Posture counts. Remember my post on perception? Perception is everything! Having a strong confident posture (shoulders back, chest out, chin up, eyes forward) shows confidence, composure, and control. Have you seen the impact that someone has based on the way that person carries themselves? When someone with a good posture enters the room or sits across the table, what non-verbals are they sending you? How does that affect your perception of them? If you present your needs and wants in a shy, mousy sort of way, with your shoulders hunched, head down, eyes averted, then those requests lose steam and eventually peter out before they even have the chance to make an impression in the mind of the person you're negotiating with. They lack the vigor of commitment and confidence. The other party will not take you seriously.
But,...and you knew this was coming. Body language like a strong posture can help in negotiation, BUT, being overly dominant can also have negative effects as well. If you are too dominant, you alienate people in a room, cause stress, and cause anxiety. Now there may be good reasons you want to do this (if it's intentional), but remember, negotiation is rarely (HARDLY EVER) a zero sum game and the need for reaching a negotiation outcome that benefits both parties often requires that the majority of the negotiation is not overtly dominant. There's a fine line between having a confident posture and then letting that confidence get the best of you and becoming overly dominant. Everything you do in a negotiation should have a desired outcome/intention.
STOP. THIS IS CRITICAL THAT YOU GRASP THIS. EVERYTHING YOU DO IN A NEGOTIATION SHOULD HAVE A DESIRED OUTCOME/INTENTION. This statement presupposes that you actually have a plan and an intention and have prepared and role played these scenarios prior to the negotiation. Preparation is and will always be the most important thing you can do to set yourself up for success.
Some of the key things I coach people on when we're in role play scenarios is to have people ask themselves the following questions:
And, you guessed it, posture is one of those things that you need to practice and be intentional about. In your negotiation, you must display the degree of posture required to reach the desired outcome you require. "Really Mark, you want me to practice my posture?" Yes, yes I do. If the negotiation calls for dominance, don't display the mousy character we talked about earlier. If it requires the calm, calculated posture (and we'll talk about how head tilting plays into this in later posts), use that posture.
"But Mark, how do I know what posture to use?" Practice, practice practice (role play). And of course, if you're not confident and regularly display a nervous or anxious posture, then fake confidence. I'm not kidding. The "fake it till you make it" line applies to body language in negotiation. Remember, over 50% of communication is through non-verbals. So posture (which in my opinion is one of the 7 key skills to learn in body language) is key to practice.
Try thinking of your negotiation as a chess game from now on. Negotiation is a strategic, formulaic, disciplined approach to doing business. By changing your mindset around how you approach negotiation you can change your behaviour and your habits. But like all disciplines, it take....discipline. You must practice regularly. You must read regularly about negotiation (READ THIS BLOG). But most importantly, you must actually use the tools you read and learn about.
I'd love to tell you that seating arrangement is an old school negotiation tactic that isn't used and isn't important. But, if I did, I'd be lying. How you seat the room and where you sit and how high you sit in your chair make a difference in negotiations.
So what are the different 'classic' seating arrangements and what do they communicate?
The Competitive Position - In this type of seating the two parties sit across from one another in a competitive or defensive position. Some people call it the arm wrestle (cute). This is the classic negotiating position you see all the time in movies. Sitting across the table from a person can create a defensive/competitive atmosphere. This is equally true for having multiple people at the table. Having one team on one side and another team at another side doesn't make much sense because of the 'competitive' nature it creates. Try to mix it up with large groups. But, there are benefits (like being able to review your notes without someone peeking over your shoulder).
The Corner Position - In this type of seating the two parties sit next to each other in a friendly and casual manner. It creates enough of a barrier that allows a person to separate themselves from a 'threatening situation' and at the same time creates enough proximity to allow for a collaborative environment. I like this one.
Pro Tip: Sit to the left of the person. Researchers at the University of Oregon have discovered that they retain up to 3 times as much information when they see things out of their right visual filed than their left. Apparently you do have a 'better side' when it comes to negotiating with others, and that side is your left because it is in the right field of vision of the person you are negotiating with. Also, anecdotally, a lot of public speakers/educators tend to ignore the right side of the room (not sure why), so sit on the left.
The Cooperative Position - In this type of seating the two parties sit next to each other in a friendly and casual manner, but with no corner separating them. It creates no barrier and creates a completely collaborative environment. I'm less of a fan here with this one, but I know lots of people that prefer this set-up.
Seating arrangements should not be accidental in a negotiation. As with everything, they should be intentional.
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