Do you use body language to your best advantage when negotiating? If not, learning how to read and use nonverbal signals can give you a powerful edge when it comes to negotiating.

A number of years ago, my partner and I received a high-end referral from the founder of our company. Our client wanted a property he could lease-option. After showing him more than 40 houses, he decided on a gorgeous, three-month-old home.

After preparing the comparables and researching the property, we presented our lease-option offer. During our investigation of the property, we learned the seller was in default on his loan, as well as having IRS liens on the property. Since the seller was not an American citizen, we were concerned our client could be liable for giving the option money to the seller rather than to the bank or IRS. Our attorney made it very clear that because the seller was foreign, at a minimum the brokerage would have to withhold funds to conform to the FIRPTA requirements. When I reviewed these facts with the seller, the negotiation became quite heated. The seller tried to bully us into hiding the option money from the IRS and the lender. When I reiterated what was required under FIRPTA, the seller resorted to screaming that the money was his and making ridiculous threats. At this point, my partner was ready to crawl under the table. I refused to back down. When the seller saw his screaming tactics weren’t working, he stormed out of the room.

After reviewing what had happened with our client and the risks associated with the transaction, our client still wanted the house. Because of the risks involved, we had to involve our respective attorneys in drafting the next offer to make sure our client was protected. My partner had a conflicting appointment so I had to attend the next round of negotiations alone. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to the next round.

Since the last round of negotiations ended so poorly, I decided to take a different tact. As soon as we sat down at the negotiation table with the seller, I began to “mirror and match” the seller’s body language. What this involves is placing your body in the same position that the seller is using. If the seller has his/her arms crossed, you cross your arms. If the seller leans forward, you lean forward. If the seller places his/her finger on the tip of the chin, you do the same thing. At the end of the negotiation, I had a signed counteroffer, which our client ultimately signed. As I was getting up to leave, the seller said the following:

At our last meeting, I really thought you were a b—-. You’re really a very nice person.

Mirroring and matching is a powerful tool to smooth out negotiations, provided it is used appropriately. If the client catches what you’re doing, however, it will doom your negotiation. The best way to use the technique is to always add at least an additional move between each mirror and match. For example, if the seller goes from crossed arms to placing a finger on the tip of the chin, your motion would be to uncross your arms, jot something down with your pen, and then mirror the seller’s position. You could also cough, brush your hair away from your face, and then mirror the seller’s position. Again, avoid doing this throughout the entire session because sophisticated negotiators recognize the technique.

This technique also works well when you have a young client whose parent wants to show you who is in charge. Provided the parent has a good relationship with the child, all you need to do is mirror your client’s body language, not the parent’s. This approach sends a powerful nonverbal signal that you are in synchrony with your client. Also, the parent will feel comfortable with their child’s body language, so this will lower the probability you will be perceived as a threat. When the parent gives you attitude, just remind them your job is to find, locate and negotiate the property. Which property they ultimately choose to purchase is their decision, not yours. On the other hand, if the child and parent have a poor relationship, don’t use the technique. It will only make the parent more hostile.

Mirroring and matching works in a wide variety of situations, although the lease-option situation is the most vivid example of how powerful the technique actually is. In this case our initial concerns were justified. Our client ultimately ended up making his payments to the lender and the IRS did come knocking on the door asking for money. If we had only been focused on closing the transaction or if we had yielded to the seller’s demands, no technique would have extricated us from the mess with the lender and the IRS.

When used properly, mirroring and matching can assist you in building rapport with your clients and doing a better job in negotiation. In this case, mirroring and matching helped us to close the transaction. Nevertheless, it’s important to stay focused on what really matters, i.e. obeying the law and doing the best job possible for the person you represent.

Bernice Ross is an owner of Realestatecoach.com and can be reached at bernice@realestatecoach.com.

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