Space: The Final Frontier
Last week we tackled space and how to use it in negotiations. I’m not talking about sending someone to the moon, or even Mars. No, nothing so distant. To the contrary, we talked about those all-important personal space zones – the difference between intimate to social to public space, and how you can apply an understanding of these concepts to up-level your bargaining. There’s a whole science dedicated to the subject. For those who missed last week’s installment, it’s called proxemics. To recap, proxemics focuses on how humans interpret the use of space, particularly its impact on behaviour, communication, and social interactions. Why should you care about it? In case you didn’t notice, these focus areas are all elements in negotiation. In this segment, let’s move from the use of physical space to a broader and deeper consideration of the subject and how you can use it to your advantage.
A person’s perception of space is affected by visual, kinesthetic, olfactory, auditory and thermal dimensions (according to Edward T. Hall, credited developer of the concept of proxemics). What do I mean by that? Visual includes eye contact or lack thereof; kinesthetic includes posture and body position; olfactory includes smell, pheromones, etc.; thermal is the heat given off by an individual; and auditory includes tone of voice (which can be broken down into texture, volume, directness). How does any of this impact on your negotiations? Let’s explore a few areas:
I To be (on time) or not to be (on time)
Some would argue that the first and most important kinesthetic is arriving to the negotiations on time and with your entire party – i.e. if you intend to have fruitful negotiations, the last thing you want to do is insult the other negotiators by arriving late. Others, however, see this as a possible tactic to exploit to set the other party off balance from the outset. Either way, being aware of this and making the decision with intention is an important first consideration.
II Where oh where can my baby (negotiations) be (taking place)?
In real estate they say the top three factors in property value are location, location, location. Some believe the same can be said of bargaining. Home court advantage is often touted as key. Humans subconsciously associate familiarity with safety. For example, sleep researchers discovered the “first night effect”, a subconscious defense mechanism that prevents us from entering a deep sleep when we sleep somewhere new, to ensure that we are able to defend ourselves at a moment’s notice. This concept can equally apply to the location of the negotiations. A party who suggests that discussions take place at their home location is likely attempting to take early advantage (though there are pros and cons to consider on both sides). For those who missed it, we discussed the importance of the where of negotiations in the earlier post. If you want to control your negotiations, then control those elements that you can. This is one area where you can. Simply make sure this is a factor you consider with intention, rather than default.
III What’s wrong with your face?
Non-verbal cues account for the majority of bargaining communication. Facial expressions constitute a big part of these non-verbal cues. So, mind your facial expressions. With one look you can discredit or empower a person’s position. Needless to say, this carries power and ought to be controlled. If the opposing negotiator is pitching their position, ensure that no one on your side is nodding in agreement. With intention, you can use your facial expressions to elicit specific desired reactions. But without purpose, unwitting facial expressions can tank your bargaining strategy and power in the blink of an eye.
IV Don’t be a human fidget spinner
Watch your hands and legs. Are you a nervous tapper? Pen clicker? Foot bouncer? Try to control it. It distracts – both you, your team, and the other side. It also signals that you’re stressed and anxious – not exactly the picture of strength you want to project. Showing angst can be used against you to try and force an early or substandard deal. Additionally, watch the position of your hands when speaking. Your palms are a powerful tool. Palms up purports inclusion whereas palms down signify aggression. If you watch famous public speakers, they speak with their palms facing up when they want to bring people into their narrative. It is a subconscious gesture that portrays inclusion.
V Don’t take that tone with me
Your tone and speed of speech are crucial communication tools. The more control you have over your speech, the less opposing negotiators will be able to guess your strategy. Stay calm, stay cool, stay collected. Once mastered, this tactic can be used to create red herrings to confuse or distract the opposing negotiator from your purpose.
VI The eyes are the window
Don’t stare. Eye contact is critical for active listening, however, a long and unbroken stare will be interpreted as intimidation. Only use it if you mean it. As always, intention is key. If you want to show the other party that their position doesn’t deserve attention, stop making eye contact and read your notes. It can be an effective way to undermine their confidence in their position.
VII Engage the space
Following up on our discussion of the awareness and use of personal zones, always remember to use the space regardless of where you’re bargaining. Make a conscious decision whether you want to stand or sit; be beside or across from the other side; stay static or move about the room; moving into or staying outside the other party’s comfort zone; be the center of attention or not, etc.
Hopefully you can use these tips and pointers to enhance your bargaining strategies. Proxemics is often overlooked or downright ignored as a factor in bargaining. Become aware of this concept and learn to apply it to your negotiations strategically for a significant advantage to give you leverage and enhance your effectiveness, influence and ultimately your results in bargaining. Ignore space at your peril. They say it’s the final frontier for a reason.