5 ways to keep the upper hand in your negotiations

The OED description is “Discussion aimed at reaching an agreement”, and Wikipedia describes it as “A dialogue between two or more people or parties intended to reach an understanding, resolve points of difference, to gain advantage for an individual or collective, or to craft outcomes to satisfy various interests.”

What we can establish then is that negotiation takes place in every area of life: Domestic; personal; employment; business; government and international. So how can a short blog successfully offer tips on using body language to keep the upper hand in all these negotiations?

  • The key – just as in, for example, approaching a poker game, is strategic thinking and emotional intelligence. Intelligent consideration of the strategy and emotional approach you consider the most advantageous will naturally influence your body language, and it is always the appropriate use of body language that will establish and maintain the upper hand. The key is, as in almost everything, in the planning! Firstly considering what the other party’s mind set is likely to be, knowing your optimal outcome and margin for concession and considering all possible outcomes. Using that information to understand and plan your approach to best achieve the outcome you desire. It may be that you need to establish authority from the outset to show that you are in a strong and unmovable position. In other circumstances that stance would be seen as confrontational and may well be unproductive. Once the approach is set, and the ‘map’ for the process is drawn, the body language becomes almost automatic, and all that is needed is light monitoring.
  • Negotiations begin with first contact, and this usually begins with the handshake where there are so many subtle variations and power plays. For example, holding your hand palm down for the handshake, forcing the other party to have their palm up, asserts domination, as does using the left hand to close the shake into a clasp or, better still, rest on the right arm of the other party. However, knowing how you would like to present yourself may well lead you to choose to offer your palm up, inviting the other party to take the dominant position, so stating that you are open, listening, non-threatening, or even encouraging them to believe that they have the ‘upper hand’ to keep them off guard!
  • Maintaining relaxed body language and posture while negotiating is a good way to show that you are confident in your position, and that you are not feeling intimidated by the situation. It is also a good way to avoid making the other party take a defensive stance, and demonstrates a cooperative approach. There may be times when you choose to use more closed body language to demonstrate that you are firm, angry, or immovable. Having drawn the map you chose to follow, you will know the best approach.
  • Whatever mindset you chose to indicate, don’t be afraid of silence! In most verbal communications both parties are very keen to get their point over, and impatient for the other person to finish to put their point across. When the other party makes an offer they will be keen to judge your reaction and be expecting a speedy response. Staying quiet for a few moments will often cause the other party to add more to what they have just said and will also give you time to consider both their offer and your reaction. Raising the eyebrows slightly as though waiting for the other person to finish can act as a powerful encouragement for an increase in the offer!
  • Wherever possible be genuine. Body language and evaluating it in others around you is unconscious. It is possible to make small changes to help you present yourself as you would like but changing the myriad of tiny subtle messages you are sending out is almost impossible without intensive training, and even then still limited. We are all drawn to others who are genuine, it is instinctive and can lead to more positive communication in every area. In negotiation it will be more believable and act as a powerful verification of what you are saying. Sometimes you may be negotiating from a position that you, personally, do not feel fully committed to and need to put that aside. In those situations people often feel that they have to hide their feelings. However there are almost always areas of discussion that you can fully identify with and be completely open with.
Sally Hall is a practising Hypnotherapist / Psychotherapist in Bedfordshire. She is highly qualified in psychiatric and therapeutic techniques and has run a practice for several years. On top of her practice, Sally writes about the impact of her field on everyday life.