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This post was updated Feb. 20, 2024.
The emotions of victory and defeat are evident in the body language of players on the field of competition, just as they are in the body language of real estate agents on the negotiating table.
Similarly, our body language can give us away when we’re meeting clients, walking into the office of a colleague or meeting with an investor. It can convey confidence or betray anxiety. It can inspire trust or awaken suspicion.
To help you ensure that your body language game is always on point, we rounded up some of Inman’s best advice. Let it make you more conscious and more aware so that you always carry yourself like a champion.
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
You may know some people who have an uncanny ability to “read” others. Be one of those people when you accurately gauge body language to unlock those non-verbal cues to intention and meaning.
From Bernice Ross’ “Read the room! How to interpret body language, facial expressions and more,” learn to note these behaviors.
What are the telltale signs to look for in terms of a person’s face?
- Looking away or decreased eye contact indicates that the person is trying to hide something from you.
- Increased eye contact signals honesty and interest.
- Red face and/or throbbing neck or forehead is a definite “red light.” STOP immediately — the person is angry, embarrassed or both. A throbbing vein almost always means the person’s blood pressure has shot up dramatically!
- Chin up usually indicates defiance. Chin down may indicate dejection, depression, or sadness or it may merely mean the client is looking at the paperwork.
- A raised eyebrow indicates the person disbelieves what you’re saying.
When it comes to evaluating arm movement, the critical factors are the degree and the intensity of the movement.
- Open arms generally indicate that the person is open to what you are saying.
- Crossed arms may be interpreted in two different ways. If the person is feeling chilled, they will draw their shoulders up towards their head as a way to keep their body heat in. If their shoulders are down and their chin is tilted up, they’re angry, not cold. This is a red signal to stop.
- The “cold shoulder,” one shoulder pointed at an angle to you, is a yellow warning signal to change your approach.
- One arm hanging over the back of the chair indicates that you do not have the client’s full acceptance or attention.
- Forearms barely touching the desk signal that the person is ready to make a quick retreat. This is a yellow signal to proceed cautiously.
- Upper arms and elbows as far back in the chair as possible indicate that the person is feeling defensive or wanting to withdraw completely. This is definitely a red signal to immediately stop whatever you are doing or saying.
People’s hands provide signals in the following ways:
- Open and relaxed hands, especially with the palms pointing up, are a green, full-speed ahead signal.
- Open palm(s) held out like a “stop” signal, mean exactly that, stop.
- Using the hands to touch the chin, ear, nose, arm or clothing usually indicates tension. This is a yellow signal to slow the pace of the negotiation or to probe for a problem.
- Tightly clasped hands or fists, or involuntary hand gestures that contradict a facial expression usually are a red signal indicating strong negative reaction. Clasped hands or fists may occur before the person’s face becomes red. Immediately stop before you make matters worse.
Just as crossed arms indicate the negotiation is not going well, making a sale is highly unlikely when the person’s legs are crossed. Signals to watch for include:
- Legs crossed at the ankles indicate the person is feeling defensive, reserved or uncooperative. This may be an early indication that you have moved from a green or yellow signal to a red stop sign.
- Crossed legs with the toe of the crossed leg pointing towards you, indicates a green — they’re with you.
- Crossed legs with the toe of the crossed leg pointing away from you, is a red signal — your message is not having the desired effect.
- Uncrossed legs with both feet flat on the floor indicate that the person is open to what you are saying or doing. This is a green signal that the negotiation is on track.
One of the easiest ways to tell if a negotiation is on or off track is to look at the direction in which the other party is leaning.
- Leaning forward means the client is with you emotionally. This is a green signal that the negotiation is going well.
- Leaning back, while still maintaining eye contact and open arms, is usually a yellow signal that indicates the client needs more facts and logical data. Before moving forward, probe for the type of additional information they need.
- Leaning back and/or turning their face away from you is a red signal that indicates the person is reacting negatively to what you are saying.
- Side to side movements suggest insecurity and doubt. This is a yellow signal that may indicate boredom. Probe more deeply to determine if they’re uncomfortable or have lost interest.
Although face-to-face conversations and negotiations are undoubtedly powerful, they’re not always possible, especially in today’s market with relocating buyers and limited inventory.
According to a 2020 Harvard Business Review survey of virtual communication strategies, most of us are less effective and less cooperative when negotiating through email or text. Face-to-face negotiations tend to help us look for solutions and develop mutual trust in a way that online communications just can’t match.
How can you develop an effective negotiation strategy that works even though you may never see the agent on the “other side of the table”?
Implement virtual face-to-face communication, when possible
Don’t rely exclusively on email to get your point across. Seek out opportunities for a quick FaceTime or Zoom, or accompany your offer with a video message. Take a tip from the Harvard team: Block or turn off your self-view monitor because it tends to make you more self-conscious and awkward during video conferences.
Make sure everyone on your team is on the same page
If you’re working with other agents or support staff to get the deal done, don’t let them undermine your negotiating position by communicating too much or providing wrong information. Assign a point person to the negotiation and, as much as possible, steer all communication through that conduit for more consistency and effectiveness.
Make sure your communication is on point
You don’t want your written communication to have typos or incorrect information. You want the cover letter to be effective and accurate. You want to ensure that the phone call you follow up with includes accurate information, as well. When you’re negotiating through email, text or phone, double-check everything so that you look every bit as competent as you would in person.
Don’t let a tech glitch undermine your position
You need a good connection and a solid working knowledge of the technology you use so that you can communicate effectively when negotiating virtually.
- Unreliable Wi-Fi? Install a wired connection at your desk, and make sure you know how to run everything off of your phone’s hotspot in case your service goes down.
- Unreliable internet connection? If you experience frequent service disruptions or your internet is not powerful enough, check with your internet provider to find out if you can boost your coverage or have someone come to your location to troubleshoot. You may want to install a separate wired connection just for work so that the family’s devices don’t interfere with your bandwidth.
- Negotiating on the go? Understand the mobile version of your transaction management software so that you can create and share offers and supporting documents on the fly.
- Completely overwhelmed? Consider whether you need to outsource some of your workload to a virtual assistant or transaction manager. They may be able to put together materials more effectively in less time.
Make the phone your friend and follow up
Take a moment and follow up on that email with a phone call or follow up after a showing with a quick call to offer your appreciation. Don’t take up the listing agent’s time, but use that minute or two to make a human connection and infuse some warmth into the process.
Lost out on an offer? Make a quick call to thank the agent for their time and consideration and let them know what your buyers are looking for — they may know of something coming up that would be just right.
Had to take someone else’s offer as a listing agent? Re-open the lines of communication and connect with that buyer’s agent to see if an upcoming or off-market listing would be a fit for them.
Dr. Christy Wise is a clinical psychologist and performance coach. For more on eye contact, mirroring and body language while showing a home or at the closing table, read Wise’s “How to read and use body language to close more deals.”
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 Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.