The Negotiator Magazine

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Negotiating Nonverbally: Try to Exploit "Tells," Giveaways and Expressions Given-Off

by Dr. Gary S. Goodman

There is a painting in Pasadena's Norton Simon Museum that presents a portrait of a gentleman, or so we would think at a cursory glance.

But the artist must have been slightly miffed at his subject. Perhaps the patron was less than generous, or possibly he was late in paying previous commissions.

Nothing about the subject's facial expression or clothing or posture reveals the artist's contempt.

However, if you start from the bottom of the frame and move up, focusing on the poser's fingers, and more to the point, on his fingernails, you'll detect what I'm referring to.

There are traces of trapped dirt that are barely visible to the attentive eye.

The artist took pains to put them there, and in doing so to deliver a completely accurate visage of the man, from his vantage point. Hundreds of years later, this silent editorial continues to whisper: "See, this is no gentleman!"

Erving Goffman, a famous sociologist, noted that in human communication there are two types of messages. He called the first, "Expressions Given."

Let's say you're speaking from a manuscript before a public gathering. You'd be giving an explicit message tailored to produce a specific result in the audience.

Likewise, if you're a salesperson and you follow a set-presentation, you are mainly concerned about crafting and delivering an expression-given.

But Goffman pointed out that there are also "Expressions Given-Off." These are inadvertent messages that we send. They seem to have lives of their own.

In the legendary Kennedy-Nixon presidential debates, a sweating Nixon "gave-off" to the TV audience the impression of a man who wasn't cool under pressure, someone less presidential than Kennedy, at least to many viewers. Some say this wholly unintentional gaffe cost him the election.

In communicating, and especially when negotiating, it pays to "listen to the whole person." This involves monitoring what they say, when they say it, how they say it, and above all, if you can, what they DON'T say, or what their bodies reveal that contradicts their expressions-given. The negotiator who speaks very slowly, or who says that he has all of the time in the world to make or not to make a deal, gives himself away by checking his watch too often, and by asking too many "when" questions.

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June 2007