It is just another business cocktail party, but Greg Williams has come here for a very special bit of business. Standing quietly in the corner, Williams scrutinizes the elegantly dressed CEO holding forth across the room. The man greets each newcomer, clasping their outstretched palm with both hands. This can be the sign that the CEO is a genuinely warm-hearted soul or that he is a control seeker. Judging from the glint in the CEO’s eye, Williams opts for the latter.
Tomorrow, Williams will be negotiating a contract with this man, and he has come here to assess him on neutral ground. The body language is telling Williams that he will have to employ terms like “as you have just pointed out” and words that will delude our CEO into thinking that he is always comfortably in control.
Williams, who justifiably titles himself “The Master Negotiator,” spoke at a recent business workshop, “Seven Secrets of Body Language in Negotiations,” at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bridgewater.
Growing up bone-edge poor in Philadelphia, Williams watched his mother and grandmother bargain every purchase down to the last nickel. He graduated from Penn State University in 1974 with a dual major in data processing and business and also took psychology and linguistics courses to sharpen his deal making.
Using these skills in his early information tech positions, he worked his way to the C-suite, and then became the chair of the New Jersey Business Development Authority. “I was always negotiating contracts for small businesses in that post,” Williams says.
While holding positions at such staid institutions as Fleet Bank, Williams also kept his mind active and his pocketbook filled as a professional blackjack player. “I started out as a card-counter,” Williams says. “Then I learned to win without counting by just reading the table.”
Author of “Negotiate: Afraid, ‘Know’ More — How to Negotiate Your Way Into Success,” Williams also passes on his knowledge as an international speaker and as a private consultant out of his Roselle office (www.themasternegotiator.com).
“Negotiation, any negotiation, is mostly a matter of mindset,” says Williams, “and it is best to determine exactly the attitudes of each stakeholder sooner rather than later.”
Pre-study. Most negotiators believe in entering the fray toting arm loads of factual ammunition and even some clever, pre-scripted phrases. Upon those with this academic approach, Williams casts a knowing smile. Of course you want to know your topic and be prepared for the issues, but negotiations are conversations between individual people — not a duel of facts. Knowing the person is more vital than combatively pre-judging the content of his discourse.
Williams suggests finding or setting up a non-threatening atmosphere beforehand in which you can pre-acquaint yourself with a person’s signals. Make some small talk and watch.
For example, most people look up and to the left to recall an item, e.g. “Let’s see, I had the trout for dinner last night.” Gazing up and to the right, however indicates use of the creative side of one’s brain, e.g. “Why yes, I had that delicious trout almandine, and you will not believe the CEO who dropped by.” Actually, you are right. I won’t believe it.
A host of other small signals will be broadcast, and the reason for them can be made apparent and placed in your negotiating arsenal:
Pressed lips — This gesture might indicate dislike, an attempt at sexual appeal, or a prelude to a smile. What is it with this person?
Eyes — Beyond the left/right gaze, is she looking at you with interest, or with a squinting focus and an intent to dig something out.
Hands — At ease in your presence? If not, where do they travel as you bring up different subjects?
Feet — have they begun to point away from you in an attempt to leave you and the conversation?
Self psyche exam. While you are about such attitude analysis, it’s time to hunt for the mote in your own eye. Take an inward look. What are you seeking — really seeking — to achieve from these negotiations?
The negotiator who enters the hall with the intention of triumphing over his opponent is owned by that opponent. He is giving them the lead and ends up only combatively countering. He will fight for compensation being made in dividends, just because the other side of the table offered salary. If you are able to radiate the feeling that we are all good folks here and what we all want is to see this deal accomplished to everyone’s benefit, half the battle is yours. And your nights before and after will prove a lot more restful.
Tricks of the trade. Williams rolls a video of the Republican presidential candidates’ debate. “Watch,” he says. “Mitt Romney puts himself right in Rick Perry’s face. He executes a beautiful fake push.” The Texas governor backed down from Mitt, along with the race for a multitude of reasons, but the Romney triumph endures vividly on video.
The key is that body language is an adjustable art, not a mathematical algorithm. A good negotiator may glance up and leftwards while lying through his teeth. For you as negotiator coming up against such conversational chameleons the approach must be to adapt your style accordingly.
If an individual who sits across from you is unsure of you, your firm, and what your connection can do for him, the goal is to cast a calming blue room. That is, seek personal trust between all parties, adopt his style, take all necessary time, and make it clear that you, above all seek a win/win situation. When the room is red, fired by a combative my-way-or-the-highway control freak, it becomes time to non-confrontationally display that you possess as much power as she.
The art of negotiation is deep and endless. Learned techniques, like a painter’s art classes, only aid, but do not create mastery and personal style. That takes time and practice. And speaking of time, Williams offers one final ray of hope: the more time you take, the more likely you are to make a deal. So hang onto your patience.