It is proven that more than half of our communication is non-verbal. But contrary to popular belief, non-verbal communication is not based solely on body language. The key types of non-verbal communication that commonly affect negotiations are the body language, physical environment and the negotiators' personal attributes. Being aware of these will better equip you when engaging in a negotiation and give you a competitive edge.

Most negotiators are usually unaware that they are throwing out involuntary non-verbal cues. You may be actively present in the negotiation process, but your silent involuntary non-verbal cues may be influencing the negotiation process more than you are aware, as they are judged subconsciously.

Body Language

Kinesics which refers to the scientific study of body language, it is concerned with the interpretation of non-verbal behaviours such as body movement, posture, gestures, eye contact and facial expression. While words communicate facts and information, kinesics convey the associated feelings, emotions and attitudes through these actions. It is also here where people can sometimes discern if the words and the kinesics don't match, leading to questions about the authencity of what has just been said. 

Body language has its skeptics though, as some feel that they may not have any underlying meaning attached to it at all and may make a situation more complicated than it actually is. In today's global environment where different cultures interaction is commonplace, there is a significant risk of these cues being misinterpreted. Kinesics signals are either innate (inborn) or learned, and can be a mix of both when innate actions are shaped by cultural rules. Hence, awareness of context is critical, espcially when engaging cross culturally.


Frequent blinking of the eyes may be simply to get out trapped dust. However, being able to pick up on facial expressions and body postures especially as immediate reactions to what you may have laid on the negotiation table can be helpful. A sudden jerk of the head in disbelief, or a subtle nod, can help steer your negotiation talks and offers towards a more win-win situation.

Physical Environment

The physical environment, also known as Proxemics communication, is the usage of physical space and territory to convey trust and intimacy. 

Commonly known as your ‘comfort zone’, being able to read the other party’s level of comfort with you during a negotiation extends towards knowing how cooperative they would be with you. For example, people in authority such as government officials usually command a bigger ‘personal bubble’.

Your personal bubble may be threatened when someone invades your personal space. You may feel uncomfortable when someone you are not close to breathes down your neck. Likewise, in a negotiation you want to foster rapport and gain cooperation. Where you are and how close you position yourself to the other party can help you avoid unnecessary tension.


Edward Hall, an anthropologist, discovered four distinct comfort distances that humans use to perceive status and power of people around them These are 0-46cm for intimate distances, 46-122cm for personal distances, 122-336cm for social and over 366cm for public distances. These distances apply when both parties are face-to-face and aware of each other’s presence. In a negotiation, keep a professional distance that wavers between 122-366cm. If you can sense the other party pulling away or creating distance between you, it may be a sign that they are hesitant towards what you are saying.


Personal Attributes

Probably the most familiar (and some say superficial) non-verbal cues of all would be your personal physical appearance. “Dress for Success” would be the expression here, and we all know how we attribute attractiveness to being better perceived. Personal attributes are not just limited to how you look – it extend to vocal cues (auditory communication) and touch (tactile communication) as well. How well you articulate and/or how firm your handshake is all reflect the way you carry yourself to the other party.


Positive attributes of body language in negotiation exude confidence, sincerity and security — three attributes that were found to be key impressions during negotiations. Unwavering eye contact can come across as intimidating, so find a balance by smiling, just as you would have to find a balance in the gestures you use during negotiations.


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