You want to negotiate the best deal for your client. Negotiations in person are more than position taking, reasoning and compromise. What’s important is not only what’s communicated, but how it’s communicated. You want to ‘read’ the other attorney and party as best you can, to get the best agreement for your client.
There are well known body language messages. Is the person crossing their arms, in a defensive posture? Are their eyes scanning the room, seemingly bored and uninterested in what you are saying? Reading your opponent’s body language, and using it to your advantage, is an art beyond the scope of any blog. But one topic worth looking into is not just our body language, but how body language differs from men and women.
A column in the Washington Post discusses female body language in office and business situations and they’re also relevant to face to face negotiations. It contains ten body language traps for women (though some apply to men as well):
TRAP #1: Using too many head tilts. Tilting your head is a signal you’re listening and involved—and a particularly feminine gesture. They can be very positive cues but may also subconsciously be interpreted as submissive.
TRAP #2: Physically condensing. Women tend to condense and contract their bodies to take up as little space as possible. High status males do the opposite: They expand into available space and take up room.
TRAP #3: Using feminine gestures. Everyone uses pacifying gestures when they’re stressed. Hands are rubbed. Arms are grabbed. Necks are touched. Women are viewed as much less powerful when they pacify with such behaviors.
TRAP #4: Speaking “up.” Women’s voices often rise at the ends of sentences as if asking a question or for approval. When making a declarative statement, start on one note, rise in pitch through the sentence and drop back down at the end.
TRAP #5: Smiling excessively. This can be confusing and rob you of credibility.
TRAP #6: Nodding too much. When a man nods, it means he agrees. When a woman nods, it’s more complicated. It may mean she agrees—or is listening to, empathizing with or encouraging the speaker to continue.
TRAP #7: Waiting your turn. In business negotiations, men take control by talking more than women and interrupting more frequently. Though interrupting may lead to tension and conflict, you may want to do it to show you’re not there just to get steamrolled.
TRAP #8: Flirtatious behavior. Women may gain likeability but may lose competitive advantage in a negotiation when they flirt.
TRAP #9: Being emotionally over-expressive. Though movement and animation adds passion and meaning to a message, women who visibly express their emotions with hand gestures that rise above their shoulders can quickly overwhelm an audience.
TRAP #10: Having a delicate handshake. Even more than men, women with a weak handshake are judged to be passive and less confident.
For your next negotiating session, add a couple more issues to be concerned about: your own body language and properly interpreting, and possibly exploiting, your opponent’s body language as well. It may take some getting used to, but may be very valuable to you and your client.