Professional poker players will say that winning is not all about odds and probabilities. If you’re playing at the top of your game it’s about reading others, watching their physical mannerisms which “tell” if they have good cards, or not. The tell is body language which conveys something about your opponent. When Oprah Winfrey interviewed disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong after he was banned for doping, a body language expert reviewed Armstrong’s performance and said he betrayed his fear by looking away from Oprah rather than looking her in the eye, and he kept taking deep breaths and swallowing hard, signs of nervousness and anxiety. He also wrung his hands, a sign of someone under pressure.
If you walk into a negotiating session and your opponent is leaning back in his chair with his feet up on his desk, he’s telling you he has the power. He’s Alpha Dog. Don’t let it throw you. Politely press on. Sometimes that Y chromosome can take up the whole room if you let it.
There can be a lot of theater that goes on in negotiations which can really add some fun and spice to the game.
Perhaps the strangest example of the tell I experienced was with a good guy in the business, who I was just getting to know. We had some deal work before us. When I first walked in to his office, he stood and I realized he was quite short for a man, perhaps 5 foot 4 inches or 5 foot 5. I always wore heels in negotiations to give my puny, 5 foot 2 inch frame some stature.
We moved into his conference room together, and as soon as I sat he seemed to relax. He did a lot of the negotiating standing and walking around. After a couple of sessions, I noticed that his overall demeanor toward me was far more accommodating when he was able to look down at me. The next session, I wore flats, testing a theory I had about the whole dynamic. Sure enough, when I walked into his office to greet him, he stood, clearly comfortable, and we had the most productive session in our history together. He sat the whole time we worked and we comfortably exchanged volleys. What game was he playing? My game was: make money. Who knows what his was? I’m a business person, not a psychologist. The next couple of times I wore flats and the scoreboard lit up big for HGTV.