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5 Tips for Reading Non-Verbal Cues in Negotiations

Non-Verbal Cues

There’s more to communication than the words we choose. It turns out our tone of our voice and body language influence what is actually “heard.” It also impacts decisions about how trustworthy the information is, which can be especially key when it comes to real estate transactions.

What we see is also influential, and it really does lead to believing. In the typical face-to-face conversation, we see plenty. According to Patti Wood, an expert on body language, up to 10,000 nonverbal cues may be exchanged within one minute of face-to-face conversation just between two people.

Regardless of which side of a real estate transaction you find yourself on, being able to trust what the other person is saying is crucial to negotiating the deal and getting it financed and closed. So, whether you are speaking or listening, here are some tips for “hearing” what isn’t necessarily being said.

1. Crossed Arms

In all fairness, a person may cross their arms because they are cold or for posture reasons. However, when someone crosses their arms, it’s often a warning sign that something about the conversation isn’t sitting quite right. Whether it’s an outright sign of resistance or skepticism, take it as a cue to interrupt yourself and check in with that person to see if they have any objections that need discussing before you move on.

2. Feet Don’t Lie

They say the eyes are the window to the soul, but it turns out our soles are also quite expressive. Our feet are controlled by the more reactive, or subconscious, part of our brains. No matter how polite you are trying to be, they can betray you. In a meeting, despite conversational evidence of engagement, a person who is losing interest or who has already decided against whatever you are discussing, from a loan application to an offer on a home, will inadvertently shift their feet toward the exit. They are literally telling you they are ready to move on. It’s a good time to either offer up supporting statements that reengage them, an incentive or bring the discussion to a close.

3. From a Handshake to Control Issues

Much is made of handshakes. A weak or wet handshake can imply a lack of confidence. A cold hand is associated with illness, which makes holding cold drinks in your left hand a good strategy at business gatherings. When the palm is extended down, it may imply the other person has control issues. Too strong a handshake can be interpreted as a sign of aggression or a lack of regard for others. When you are on the receiving end of a hurtful handshake, take it as a hint to tread lightly until you figure out if it was intentional. Conversely, if you notice people wincing when you shake their hands, you may want to apply less pressure to avoid having them make false assumptions about you.

4. The Eyes Have It

While we are all taught that eye contact is essential, too much can make people uncomfortable to the point of feeling threatened. Too little can be interpreted as shyness or lead to concerns of untrustworthiness. If a person looks away frequently, it can signal discomfort or disinterest. Blinking is said to express distress, while squinting indicates skepticism. When you encounter any of these behaviors, be watchful for other signs of confirmation. It’s also possible you’re speaking with someone suffering from allergies, near- or far-sightedness, or another ailment—none of which has anything to do with you! 

5. Mom Was Right – Sit Up Straight

Posture can be very expressive. A person who is sitting up straight with arms relaxed is typically ready to hear what you have to say. Leaning back can mean they are irritated or bored. The “lean in” indicates interest and that the other person is ready to sign. Meanwhile, a forward hunch may not be so positive. When shoulders drop, especially as the corners of the mouth turn down, it can be a sign that a deal is lost, in spite of what is being said. However, if the person also places a hand below their chin, they are very interested in the conversation.

6. It’s How You Say It

Speaking too loudly may be interpreted as stress, anger, or aggression. Then again, it could be hearing loss on the part of the speaker. The opposite issue, speaking too softly, may be the result of medical issues or may indicate shyness and a tentative nature. When someone appears to be overemphasizing certain words, they are typically trying to underline things that are important to them. Similarly, someone who answers their own question may be trying to share something they need you to know about them.


Communication is a lot like magic. A magician uses words and props to divert attention to what he wants you to see. We do the same, though subconsciously, with our words. Paying attention to the nonverbal cues will help you make adjustments and address concerns or objections before they become surprise outcomes.

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