Take a tip from actors, attorneys and a door-to-door salesman to keep your non-verbal communication skills on-point, says Christy Murdock. Then, stay focused and mindful to make the best possible impression throughout any negotiation.

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One of my favorite expressions is, “fix your face,” often shouted in my high school when someone had their nose in the air or a scornful look on their face. Part warning, part humorous put-down, it was a shortcut to let someone know that they were giving away their thoughts in a way that was obnoxious, and possibly punchable.

When you go into a negotiation, you too need to fix your face and your body language so that you can convey only what you want to in front of the other agent. Here are seven ways to keep track of your look and behavior so that you always have the upper hand.

Prepare your body language before you walk into the room

One of the most-watched TED Talks ever comes from social psychologist Amy Cuddy, whose Wonder Woman pose is a staple for those who need to gather their power before meetings and negotiations. It’s just what it sounds like – standing like Wonder Woman, hands on your hips, for a minute or two.

According to Cuddy, by opening up your body in this way and taking a power pose, you feel more powerful and your body is flooded with chemicals that make you feel more confident as well. It’s a big advantage when you’re nervous or when there’s a lot riding on the meeting you’re about to have.

You don’t have to adopt your power pose at the negotiating table, however. Step into the stairwell or duck into a bathroom stall, pose, close your eyes and breathe deeply. You’ll calm down and walk into the negotiating room with enviable poise.

If you’re a fan of Masterclass, you may remember this as one of Robin Roberts’ favorite strategies for effective and authentic communication.

Take a tip from actors, and check your facial expressions in the mirror

Have you ever sat in a theater and watched an actor on the big screen transport an audience with the merest hint of a smile or the flicker of an eyelash? How is that possible? Practice, practice, practice.

An actor’s face is their instrument, so they leave nothing to chance. A skilled actor will have spent hours looking in the mirror, practicing expressions and determining their best angles. It sounds silly or even a little vain, but knowing how to do it well – to convey subtle cues with intention – can drive a negotiation forward.

Watch the other agent for discrepancies in non-verbal communication

Just as you want to master your own looks and behaviors, you want to become the master of your opponent’s cues, as well. Be on the lookout for signs of insincerity in the agent across the table. According to research from Harvard Law School, someone who nods when they’re saying no, for example, can be betraying a disconnect between their thoughts and their communication.

Another thing to watch for is too little non-verbal communication – sitting perfectly still and using no hand gestures — along with stiff verbal communication like speaking in monotone. These are all indicators that the person in front of you is saying one thing and thinking another.

Don’t let your eyes give you away

In just the same way, discrepancies between the look in your eyes and the smile on your face may give away a disconnect in your thinking. You may have heard of Duchenne smiles – those smiles that reach your eyes and cause them to light up. These types of smiles can help you to win people over and convey your interest and charm when you meet them.

By the same token, however, a smile that stays firmly on your mouth and never reaches your eyes lets the other party know that you’re insincere and trying to convey an emotion you don’t feel. Even if they’re not consciously aware of it, their subconscious may read you as less trustworthy,  making negotiating more difficult.

Smile and nod to build rapport

Want to make a great first impression? Smile and nod, according to world-class door-to-door salesman Chandler David Smith. It helps to align you with the person you’re speaking with and makes them feel more positive about whatever you’re saying. 

Smith also suggests that effective negotiators speak more slowly than usual to avoid sounding like a fast-talking salesperson. Combine that slower pace with your power poses and rapport building to convey confidence to those you meet.

Control your inner monologue to keep it from showing on your face

Have you ever found your mind wandering during a Zoom meeting or negotiation and had someone ask you what’s wrong? Sometimes, as we think about a situation or problem, our inner thoughts are reflected on our faces. You can’t afford to give anything away through an unguarded moment.

Keep yourself focused on the conversation you’re having and avoid internal thoughts like the following:

  • “What will I do if I don’t get this commission?”
  • “What will the client say if this doesn’t work out?”
  • “This guy is a crook. I can’t stand him.”
  • “These sellers are jerks. They’re trying to get away with something.”
  • “I’m going to take them to the cleaners on this deal. I’ve got them right where I want them.”
  • “I wasn’t expecting them to say that. What will I do now?”

Any of these thoughts can show up as microexpressions and give away your mental and emotional state. They’ll undermine what you’re saying by showing up on your face.

Make eye contact with the camera on video and Zoom

You probably know how important eye contact is in face-to-face communication. If you’re on Zoom, Facetime or video, however, you don’t want to look at the eyes of the image of the person you’re talking with – or into your own eyes if you’re seeing yourself onscreen. Instead, look straight into the camera to give the sense that you’re making eye contact with the viewer or the other party to your Zoom call.

Maintaining your personal power and your inner thoughts while controlling your outward expression is key to making yourself more adept at all types of communication, not just negotiation. Practice makes perfect, and so does mindfulness, so slow down and stay focused on yourself as well as the agent with whom you’re negotiating.

Christy Murdock is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on TwitterInstagram and YouTube.

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