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Facial Expressions: The Ultimate Negotiation Tool


I know we’d like to think a logical thought process goes into most negotiations, but the fact is that emotions play an influential role in them. If you know what your counterpart is thinking and feeling, then you will have an upper hand during the negotiation process.

Experienced negotiators know this, so they’ve taught themselves how to mask their feelings. They control their body language, words, and tone of voice very effectively. Yet there is one place I’ve noticed where even the best negotiators aren’t always in full control: with their facial expressions.

The Secret Is Reading a Person’s Micro-Expressions

As much as we’d like to think we are in full control of ourselves, sometimes there are emotional moments that escape – even just for a second or two. These moments appear within the context of our facial expression.

We all can recognize common emotions when we see them in people’s faces. During a negotiation, you might see a flash of anger or disgust. That tells you it is time to shift gears. You might see fear or surprise – that’s a moment to leverage your position. If you see happiness, then you know you’ve struck gold.

And if you see contempt – that “fake” smile – then you’re in trouble.

The time it takes for an experienced negotiator to recognize an emotion and control it on their face can be as little as 1/25 of a second. Yet if you can catch that flash of emotion, you can be in control of the ultimate negotiation tool.

Here’s How You Can Use This to Your Advantage

When I discovered this negotiation trick, it became my top priority to discover how I could leverage this information to my advantage. It’s not always easy to read a person’s facial expressions, but here’s what I’ve discovered can be successful.

#1. Stay focused on the face. Look your counterpart in the eye. Make them feel a little uncomfortable. Far too often, we watch a person’s mouth instead of their eyes.

#2. Tell your story. If you’re telling a personal story, the emotions your face will show are going to be based on how you feel about those memories. It can be an effective masking technique. Make sure you’re watching your counterpart’s face if they are telling their own story to catch any slip-ups.

#3. Ask about multiple options. You can catch micro-expressions whenever multiple options are presented to you. This will show you which option your counterpart wants you to take, the one they hope you won’t take, and the ones they couldn’t care less about.

There will always be those who can negotiate without letting anything slip. Most people, however, will offer you a clue or two about how they are thinking and feeling if you pay attention to their facial expressions. Their micro-expressions can be what leads you to a great deal.

What have you discovered to be helpful during the negotiation process? Have you tried to read micro-expressions before? Let me know what happened and what you learned from the process. 

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