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How to Strategically Use Nonverbal Behavior the Right Way

40 how to strategically use nonverbal behavior the right way

Nonverbal behaviors (such as facial expressions and body language) are things that we aren’t always consciously aware of. But when negotiators jump on video conferencing, it’s important to continue to be mindful of your nonverbal behavior.

In an episode of Negotiations Ninja, Dr. David Matsumoto points out that some people forget they’re on video—or ignore the fact entirely. This can lead to incongruent behavior or giving away information unintentionally because you forget people are watching your expressions.

Before diving into what you can do to leverage nonverbal behavior, let’s dissect emotions, macroexpressions, and microexpressions.

The seven basic human emotion categories

David shares that all humans are wired with the ability to portray or express seven different families of emotion: anger, contempt, disgust, fear, sadness, happiness, and surprise. They aren’t the only emotions but are those that can primarily be expressed in the face. Emotions such as pride, triumph, shame, and embarrassment include using other parts of the body.

Each of those labels is a typical name for a host of emotions within that family. That includes synonyms of different intensities. Anger includes frustration, being pissed off, annoyed, enraged, hostile, and everything in-between.

The concept of macroexpressions + microexpressions

David notes that macroexpressions—in regard to facial expressions—can be applied to all nonverbal behavior. Macroexpressions are the expressions you have when you don’t feel the need to control or suppress them. They’re naturally occurring, spontaneous, and large. They are as they are.

When an emotion occurs, they are on our faces from as fast as half a second to 4–5 seconds. They’re easy to read. The same applies to gestures, posture, tone of voice, clarity, and enunciation. In contrast, microexpressions are small tiny bits of behavior that leak out because you’re trying to control them—and usually happen in less than half a second.

Because a macroexpression is so easily readable and understandable, you must be careful what macroexpressions you’re using. In some cases, it may be advisable to emphasize your expressions to overcome the technology barrier.

How to strategically use nonverbal behavior the right way

When you’re in a negotiation, you’re trading in impression management. You want to manage someone else’s impression of you while accenting your words with nonverbal communication. So you have to use your nonverbals strategically.

David points out that I use gestures just as if we were engaging in face-to-face interaction. When everything switched over to remote communication, it was hard for David to communicate well until he let himself let go. When he did so, he started using gestures like he normally would and focused more on the message (i.e., the words he used and his clarity). He projects it in his hands and his facial expressions.

However, you don’t want to overly focus on using hand motions and facial cues the same way numerous times. People notice when you’re being artificial. David emphasizes that we judge people on genuineness and honesty. Those judgments are tied to judgments of trustworthiness. If you’re trying to persuade someone to do something, those judgments are crucial.

David doesn’t recommend thinking mechanically. Instead, start with a mindset to express something better, be clearer, or project a certain way. Nonverbal behavior is the output of internal states. You want to set a state and intention, and then it will flow more easily than trying to mechanically do it.

To learn more about nonverbal behavior and how it influences video-conferencing negotiations, Dr. David Matsumoto takes a deep-dive into the topic in episode #193 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast. Go give it a listen!

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