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Understanding Body Language in Web Conferencing with David Matsumoto, Ep #193

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How does web conferencing technology alter our ability to understand body language and facial expressions in negotiations? What are the advantages and disadvantages? What can we change to master negotiations via web conferencing? Dr. David Matsumoto shares what we can do—and avoid—in this episode of Negotiations Ninja.

David is a Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University, where he’s been for 31 years. He conducts research on emotion, facial expressions, nonverbal behavior, and culture. He does basic research on the nature and function of those topics as well as applied research utilizing investigative interviews. He also runs a company named Humintell, focused on research, consultation, and training leveraging nonverbal behavior.


How web conferencing has impacted body language

Has web conferencing affected how people perceive body language and facial expressions? Many of us are getting comfortable with video conferencing, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that it affects how people think about negotiation.

In David’s experience, there are different camps of people. One group ignores the fact that you have all of the cues available and focus on words—ignoring the video entirely. The second group of people tends to forget they’re on video. Both are unfortunately mistakes. The problem is that when you try to focus on the person’s face, not the camera, it creates a disconnect.

How do you combat the disconnect? Some people are more in tune with what they’re saying on the phone. Others use Zoom and simply have a conversation without the video. The bottom line? Remote technology with video conferencing is creating more havoc than people think.

Can the disadvantages we’re facing be overcome?

Those people that forget they’re on video mistakenly believe they aren’t being seen. What ends up happening is that facial expressions—that you’d normally only reserve for when you’re not being seen—are being mistakenly used on video calls. You can immediately see what’s hitting or not hitting. It creates some distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Another problem with web conferencing is when you try to look at the camera to make eye contact. But in doing so, that means you miss out on gauging the other person’s reaction. In everyday discourse, you can engage while watching someone else’s process—which isn’t possible with video. If you look down at the screen, the other person feels like you’re looking away, which must be overcome. The problem is that baggage occurs one way or the other. You must judge if and how it is affecting the flow of conversation.

Engaging in impression management

When we feel we aren’t being viewed, it opens up the door to potential failures. Because of the disconnect, things are forgotten. In normal discourse, you’re trying to convey and hear a message while also engaging in impression management. The context lulls you to a sense of complacency that’s misguided.

Nonverbal behavior is a sign of what’s happening in your mind. When you’re on top of it, it keeps others from knowing more than we want them to know. When we have that disconnect, impression management is forgotten. You then broadcast these signals that give the astute person leverage to use against you.

Some negotiators’ primary focus is to push your buttons and get you off your game. They’re the ones that are on those signals that you’re emitting. Why wouldn’t they leverage that? The advantage is when you’re the one noticing the signals. You must be on your game.

How can you strategically use nonverbal behavior the right way? In this segment, David shares how body language and macroexpressions come into play. He also shares some great concepts to be aware of and strategies to use in this episode. To learn more about how to understand body language, listen to the full episode@

Resources & People Mentioned

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