When negotiating, it best to wear your “game face”. People look at your face when negotiating to understand how you feel about things; make sure that your face tells the right story.
I have read that up to 70% of communication is non-verbal. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to control how you look and act; managing your eye contact, facial expressions, and body language takes a lot of practice. Even senior executives struggle with this. It first starts with a self awareness about how you are viewed by others. Getting feedback from others helps and so does a video camera. Managing this image takes a lot of practice.
For example, I once worked for a CEO who had the ability to look at you directly in the eye while smiling ear to ear. He hoped to send a message that he was actively listening to you while being open to your ideas. Even when he disagreed with you, he kept on smiling except for one thing: he unconsciously shook this head side to side as if to say no. He could not help it. The point is that he tried to cover up his true feelings, but you could see that he disagreed with you.
Thus, in negotiation it is best to avoid showing your cards too early by displaying overt facial expressions such as flinching or grimacing. Flinching is when you get that astonished look on your face that screams, “What? Are you nuts?” You know the look. It is usually accompanied by gasp for air or a step backward.
In most cases, a flinch is part embarrassment and part anger in reaction to a proposal or new idea; typically the flincher is shocked or surprised by a statement from the other party. It tells the other party that they may just crossed a line or asked for too much. It also reveals the flincher’s true feelings.
A grimace is similar. It is usually a quick frown with teeth clinched. Again, it is an unconscious response to bad news or it is a sign of disapproval.
When you witness a flinch or a grimace, it is your cue to slow down and assess the situation. You might want to say something like, “You seem surprised by comment. Why is that?” This simple question may smoke out an issue or objection that you had not addressed. Thus, a flinch or a grimace from the other party is an opportunity to better understand them and their interests.
Beware of the “fake flincher” or “insincere grimacer”. This is the person that fakes flinching or grimacing to get what they want. My experience is that people who play this game often play it too much; you quickly can catch on to this charade. It is best to just ignore them.
The best face to wear to a negotiation is your own, but make sure that it is calm, collected, and open to new ideas.
John Bradley Jackson
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