Whether it’s time for your yearly review or you’ve decided you deserve a raise, which you obviously do, negotiating can be intimidating. No matter how much you prepare and no matter what your relationship is with the person you’re talking to, you never know how they might react. Lucky for you, these four body language clues can help to guide your conversation. Making an important ask shouldn’t be scary—it should be successful.
Here's what to look out for.
1. Establish a baseline
Establishing a baseline is key to any high-stakes conversation. Think about the person you’ll be negotiating with. What are some of their normal mannerisms? Are they an active listener or do they tend to have a poker face? Do they often shower you with verbal affirmations or do they tend to hold back on compliments? Learning that person’s baseline will help you determine when things take a negative or positive turn.
2. Eye contact
Ever heard the saying, “the eyes are the windows to the soul?” It might be a cheesy phrase, but it’s true. Reading someone’s eye contact —or lack thereof—can tell you a lot about the emotional response they’re having. If the person you’re negotiating with looks directly into your eyes while you’re speaking to them, it probably means they are interested in what you have to say and are paying attention. However, if they break eye contact frequently to look away from you, that could indicate they are either uncomfortable, distracted, or trying to hide their true feelings. This is why it’s important to have a baseline established so you can decipher what emotions might be behind the shifty eye contact.
Be sure to take note of other facial expressions, such as nodding, smiling, or frowning. These can be indications of emotions, too. For example, if you notice this person breaking eye contact, but they’ve previously been smiling or nodding, maybe they’re just distracted.
If you notice someone breaking eye contact with you, feel free to finish what you’re saying and then reign them back in with something like, Let me know if I can answer any questions for you or Am I making sense so far? This will draw them back in and hopefully allow them to voice any concerns they may have.
3. Crossed arms and legs
Most people cross their arms and/or legs when they’re feeling closed-off or defensive—it’s our body’s way of protecting itself. If the person you’re speaking to is leaned in with uncrossed arms, chances are, you’re engaging their attention. Paired with a smile or active nods, these are probably good signs you’re on the right track. A few other things to note are the hands’ location on the body and any movement in the fingers.
Some people will stand with their hands on their hips to indicate control, power, or aggressiveness, while others clasp their hands behind their backs when they’re bored, anxious, or even angry. Again, we all have stances and positions that feel most comfortable to us, so be sure to pay attention to all of these body language cues to decipher what’s really going on. I, personally, am most comfortable with my legs crossed, but I’m not always feeling closed off when I do it.
Be sure to take note of tapping fingers or fidgeting as this could indicate that a person is impatient, nervous, frustrated, or bored.
If you notice positive gestures in the arms and legs, keep going because you’re on the right track. However, if you notice discomfort, boredom, or even anger, feel free to go back to those trusty questions from above and be prepared to address any concerns or conflicts your boss may have.
Be aware of their posture when seated. If they have an open posture, meaning they’re keeping the mid-section of their body open, this usually indicates openness, friendliness, and willingness, so forge on!
If you note a closed posture, which often involves hunching or crossing the arms and legs, this could indicate unfriendliness, anxiety, or hostility. Not to worry—knowing the context behind gestures like this can make all the difference. Maybe the person you’re negotiating with is feeling sick, so they’re more closed off. Or maybe it’s cold in their office, so they have their arms crossed for warmth. Remembering your baseline is the most important thing in situations like this.
The key to negotiating is to remain aware of the person sitting across from you and to know how and when to react. If you want to learn more about the body language you can exhibit for a successful negotiation or interview, check out this article from Monster.
Read more: How to Negotiate Your Start Date