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Never misread the eyes ever again

Negotiation touches every part of our lives. Relationships in business and in our personal lives are negotiated. And the skills to do it effectively can often mean the difference between getting what you want or losing out. You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate!

In the third section of the book, How to be a Great Negotiator, written by property economist, investor and developer Neville Berkowitz, we discuss and analyse the many different nonverbal, “body language” signals others give us during a negotiation, as well as how our bodies are communicating with the other party.

(Courtesy of PersonalEmpowerment.co)

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People in European countries maintain eye contact, on average, about 60% of the time. When listening, their eye contact increases to 75% of the time. And when neither party is talking, they maintain eye contact around 30% of the time. The average “look” lasts some three seconds while talking or listening, and one second on average in silent periods.

In certain Eastern countries and some South American countries, prolonged eye contact between men is a sign of disrespect and aggression, while direct eye contact between men and women is regarded as inappropriate outside the context of courting.

In the West in general, maintaining eye contact beyond the average of 60%, and increasing it up to 75%, enhances your relationship with the other person, provided this eye contact is “soft,” neutral, or friendly.

Prolonged “hard” or unfriendly eye contact is clearly aggressive in nature and inappropriate in a friendly negotiation. A hard, menacing stare may be necessary as a warning to someone who is behaving inappropriately with you. But it is generally “enemy-making” in its effect.

In a work relationship where there are structures of management, longer-than-average eye contact by a person of superior rank is an assertion of authority; it implies “listen to me; I’m the one in charge here”. In a finely balanced negotiation where power ebbs and flows between parties, lengthening and firmly holding eye contact can shift the balance of power, giving the one initiating the eye contact the slight edge.

To avoid appearing threatening in a negotiation (unless being threatening is required), focus your eyes on the items involved in the negotiation, such as sales literature, plans, agreements, and the like. Ideally, both parties focus on the same item; this creates a sense of common purpose or consensus.

Timid, afraid, and uncertain people tend to have low self-esteem and to maintain a low level of eye contact. People with deep insecurities and psychological problems often maintain minimal or even no eye contact. When negotiating with such people, keep the focus on an object where they will feel less threatened and more secure in their negotiations with you.

If you tend to be a timid, insecure, or troubled person in negotiations, either work to build up your self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth, or find another line of employment away from the front lines of negotiation. Or, if you can afford it, hire a professional negotiator to act on your behalf.

The following are some meanings of various expressions and gestures of the eyes:

1 Eye-widening/coyness: Raising eyebrows and eyelids in surprise or lowering the head and looking upward denote vulnerability and submissiveness. This is sometimes used by women to attract or manipulate men. By appearing weaker and more vulnerable, and thus encouraging the man to feel stronger and “looked up to,” the hope is that the man is more likely to behave in a gentlemanly and protective manner.

2 Looking up: When eyes look upward, it’s as if they are looking to the brain to create a picture of something or to remember a picture from one’s memory bank. Usually eyes up and to the left are trying to access a memory, and eyes up and to the right are trying to create a new picture or understanding.

3 Looking downward:  This can be a sign of submission or may indicate guilt or fear, as in being “unable to look someone in the eye.” Looking down and to the right is usually a sign of trying to deal with internal emotions, while looking down and to the left is more likely to indicate talking to oneself.

4 Looking sideways: A sideways glance could indicate lack of interest in what is being said. It could be a wish to leave or flee, the scoping out of an exit. It could be a secret glance, expressing an interest in the person in the line of vision to the left or right. It could be a nervous gesture, revealing uncertainty about one’s competence or what is being said. It could be a furtive or conspiratorial gesture or even a hostile or sceptical gesture, if accompanied by lowering eyebrows and a downturned mouth. Usually one looks to the left to recall a sound and to the right to imagine a sound.girl eyebrows and forehead resize

5 Gazing, Glancing, Staring: Gazing can easily be misread due to its various meanings. A direct gaze usually has its focus in an inverse triangle with the base as a line between the eyes and the apex at the lips. More intimate gazing, although not usual in negotiations as contemplated as the scope of this book, will be in a much larger inverse triangle, from between the eyes to the chest and, from a distance, down to the groin.

A prolonged, unblinking look or stare, without speaking, is a gesture of control or intimidation. If you want to intimidate someone, then look at a triangle with the base between his or her eyes and the apex on the forehead above the eyebrows. To really intimidate someone, emulate the predatory animal about to strike its prey. Narrow your eyelids, lower your eyebrows, focus with an unblinking stare, and remain still, letting your eyeballs follow the “target,” if it’s moving; then allow your head to move while keeping your body still and alert in an attack position.

A direct gaze into the eyes of the other person can indicate genuine interest and openness. But people who are lying or have a covert agenda that goes against your interests will often use a direct gaze to simulate openness and honesty. As with all expressions and gestures, you must use your mind and intuition to discern the meanings in any particular case.

Glancing at someone or something may indicate simple curiosity – checking it or the person out. Glancing repeatedly may often indicate an interest one is currently unable to pursue.

Staring may indicate shock, anger, disbelief, surprise, or an effort to process or come to terms with unexpected information or emotion. Staring off into space may indicate reverie, reflection, or simply “spacing out.”

Squinting, if not due to strong sunlight or glare, indicates uncertainty and evaluation.

Rubbing the eyes may indicate tiredness or the need to protect oneself from seeing.

Shielding the eyes denotes protection from anticipated danger.

6 Eye-sweep: People generally want to assess you first by “taking you in” with an eye-sweep. They want to see who they are about to interact with. If they are not given a few seconds to assess you and obtain an initial impression, they may be distracted and less than attentive to your words as they furtively keep trying to size you up.

It’s good to find something simple to do in those precious few seconds after the initial introduction or handshake greeting is over in order to allow them to do  their eye-sweep unobserved. If practical, look to be seated and take a few moments to arrange your seat or your bag, briefcase, laptop case etc. Once they’ve done their “sweep,” they can pay full attention to what you’re saying.


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