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SHOW AND TELL:

By Julia Romanova, Associate, Rational Games, Inc.

Body Language and Voice Coach



Body Language and Voice in Negotiations


In negotiations, we often hear phrases such as “I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse” or gestures like clasped hands on the table when talking about negotiation. In this short blog, I’d like to create a new understanding of nonverbal communication in general and during negotiations in particular. Let’s take a closer look at two superpowers we always have access to: our voice and our body.



Body Language and Voice in Negotiations

The Voice

Vocal expression immediately reveals our state of mind: speaking fast or with a very high voice can make us appear insecure, weak and lacking in confidence, putting our negotiating partners in a better position within seconds, even before any words are spoken.


We have all been in such situations:

Feeling disconnected from our speech through nerves or excitement. The sounds coming out of our mouths seem to be foreign objects living their own lives. “I can’t hear myself speak” is a common reaction.


As a result, we send an incongruous message to our opponents: logically structured argumentation but with the sound of self-doubt. Ironically, the brain registers the sound first, while the meaning of the sentence takes 2-3 seconds longer. You can guess which has the greater impact... 


Speech production is a physical process, a high-speed interaction of the diaphragm, lungs, glottis (with vocal cords), and articulation tract (mouth and nose cavity). This journey of thought through our body to its articulation is fascinating and much more complex than we might think. My favorite speech mantra I often share is


“We are talking bodies, not talking heads”.

How we stand or sit during a negotiation correlates with the volume, timbre, and pace of our voice. Yet when we prepare for a high-pressure situation like a negotiation, we tend to focus on the rational, forgetting to consider an equally crucial factor: our body.




The Body


To own our voice, we must first connect with our body. This may sound simple, but it's not. How about a quick personal reflection? Think about the last time you argued with someone, or just had a conversation where your expectations were not met. A vocal situation, so to speak, with a lot of emotion. Got it? Nice!

  • Do you remember your posture?

  • Were you touching the floor with the soles of your feet, or only with your toes, or maybe not?

  • What about your spine?

  • Your hips, your shoulders, your jaw?

  • Can you reconstruct them?

  • Probably not so easy, isn’t it?


The same phenomenon happens quite often in negotiation. We may feel a dry mouth or a rapid heartbeat as we present our demands, allowing our bodies to guide us instead of using them to our advantage.


Let's investigate ways to overcome this:


Step One: Learn to recognize your body patterns when speaking in front of others. Do I tend to stand on one leg? Does my left shoulder lift every time I'm trying to make a point? Do I clench my jaw instead of saying, "I have a different perspective on this"? These were my patterns, that still show up when I don’t feel sufficiently prepared. Yours might be different. 


Step Two: Practice unlearning body patterns that don't serve you. For example, if your left shoulder always goes up with phrases like "That's not the way it is!" or "I can't do it this way anymore," disconnect it from the emotional situation and repeat only the words, focusing on your shoulder. Putting your right hand on your left shoulder while practicing these sentences will help you to trust only the words. There is no need to emphasize them unnecessarily with our bodies.


Step Three: Find Your "Silent Supporters”. Practice bringing your attention to your feet at the beginning of every conversation. Press your heels into the floor if you notice you're speaking too fast. If possible, put a hand on your stomach if your voice is an octave higher than usual. Tilt your head back and align your neck with your spine. This will add volume to your voice without shouting.


Overall, knowing and connecting with your body will give you a natural, strong, and confident performance without putting on a mask or adopting a "winner's pose".



The Power of Habit


Is your next negotiation two months or more away? Great! Start developing new habits right away. There's no difference between you in a negotiation and you in a conversation with your neighbor. Take every opportunity to observe yourself as you speak. Notice, reflect, and try new things in a low-risk situation with your friends, spouse, or colleagues who support your development. Learn to own your voice and body to move a negotiation forward and make a change for the better. 


Show your message with your body and tell it with your voice.


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