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  • Writer's pictureDr. Onyeka Abengowe DHA,MBA,CNMT,LGBH,CTC,CBN

11 top body language pitfalls to avoid during business negotiations

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

Body language - A powerful nonverbal Communication tool

Body language is a powerful form of nonverbal communication that provides valuable clues about the emotions, intentions, and motives behind the actions of others. Nonverbal communication happens when we use gestures, facial expressions, posture, tone, pitch, and volume of our voice to express ourselves rather than using words. An estimated 7–10% of communication is with spoken words, and about 90% through changing tone, volume, the pitch of our voices, and nonverbal modes. As we go about our daily lives, we can gain insight into the feelings and thoughts of people we encounter through their posture, gestures, and mannerisms. Our body language often speaks louder and stronger than our words. While words can be controlled, nonverbal cues happen subconsciously and are not easily manipulated.

Nonverbal communication sometimes replaces, complements, or emphasizes verbal communication. At other times, nonverbal communication conflicts with the accompanying verbal communication, portraying an attempt to deceive. According to an article published by the Harvard Law School's Program on negotiations titled Using body language in Negotiations, body language plays an important role in negotiations. It conveys valuable information that is sometimes different from what our words express. Body language can help to establish connections that only face-to-face meetings are capable of accomplishing. Displaying the wrong body language can also work against even a seasoned business negotiator. Effective business negotiators know how to set themselves up for successful negotiations by avoiding negative body language.

Below are my top 11 body language pitfalls to avoid during business negotiations.

1. Avoiding eye contact

Looking down or sideways and avoiding eye contact during business negotiations send the wrong messages. Your opponent could interpret your lack of eye contact as a lack of confidence, unwillingness to engage, insincere and deceptive. On the other hand, looking up directly at your opponent and making eye contact while speaking or listening exudes confidence, sincerity, and willingness to engage and find a resolution.

2. Drooped or angled shoulders

Sitting or standing with drooped or angled shoulders is the number one giveaway that you lack confidence in who you are and your capabilities. Besides lack of confidence, your opponent also sees you as unsure, ill-prepared, and incompetent. Standing or sitting upright, with shoulders squared signifies confidence, well-prepared and competent.

3. Arms across body or chest

This habit gives the impression that you are closed in, inflexible, not interested in finding common ground or interest. Having your arms open in front sends the message that you have an open mind, are willing to find a common interest on which to possibly establish a baseline cordial relationship. With open arms, you also signify to your opponent that you are willing to find resolutions based on interest, rather than position.

4. Clinched fists

Having palms closed in a fist sends the message that you are combative and aggressive. Keeping palms open signifies friendliness and a welcoming disposition. Arms in front with open alms make it easier to gesture to emphasize your point.

5. Frown or furrowed eyebrows

Nothing puts an opponent off or gets them in the mood for a "fight" than sitting across from a frowning face. The opponent right away gets the impression that you are ready for a fight, not prepared to listen, and makes them suspicious of your motives. A frowning face creates a negative and aggressive environment. To create a positive environment, smile (genuinely, of course) while maintaining eye contact. A genuine smile conveys confidence, a friendly disposition, and openness to a cordial business negotiation process.

6. Look of disdain or the up and down look (aka eye-rolling)

This behavior gives your opponent the impression that you are disrespectful, have no regard for them or what they have to say. Disrespect does not breed a good atmosphere for meaningful business negotiation and resolution of the issues at hand. There is a saying that you get what you give. Showing respect to your opponent does not take away from your confidence but instead attracts respect and gives you the power of setting the right tone for how the negotiation plays out.

7. Tapping or shaking your feet and fidgetting with the fingers

These habits portray nervousness and insecurity. Planting your feet steady on the floor is a show of "I am not intimidated by you"; "I know my stuff"; "I feel secure in my business negotiating skills and ability."

8. Tapping pencil or pen on the table

This is a giveaway for impatience, boredom, or indirectly saying, "can you round it up?"; "you are wasting my time"; "how much longer do I have to put up with this?". Be careful to avoid doing this as it is a cue to your opponent that they "have lost you"; "you would rather they stop talking"; "they are not making sense". It is also distracting to sit across the table from someone whose hands are constantly moving, along with the noise made by the tapping.

9. Encroaching into the other party's personal space

Leaning in too close can portray aggressiveness, attempt to intimidate, coerce or bully into agreeing with you, none of which help you achieve your goal of having a successful business negotiation. Instead lean in enough, about three to five feet, to show that you are listening and interested in what is being said.

10. Wearing a blank or lost look

How many times have you seen people looking like they have no idea why they are there? That is what happens when you put on a blank look during a business negotiation. This behavior signifies disengagement, boredom, and lack of interest, pretty much "I'd rather be taking a nap right now".

11. Inappropriate dressing and grooming

Some people may not associate dressing and grooming with body language and so they underestimate the significance of physical presentation during a business negotiation. The first thing the other party sees before you even speak a word is your appearance. As much as you do not want to be overpowering, you also do not want to dress down. Appearing rough, unkempt, and poorly groomed sends the signal that you were in a hurry and did not have time to put yourself together. It also gives the impression that you are low profile. It is not always so much about how expensive your clothes and accessories are, but more about how appropriate and well-put-together you look. Loud and overly revealing clothing can be distracting and give the wrong impression.


While these are not an exhaustive list of negative body language cues to avoid during a business negotiation, they offer a solid base on which to build your next negotiation preparation. Many times first impressions and unspoken words set the tone for how business negotiations play out and can be the differentiator between a successful negotiation and one that fails before you even get started.

Got more bad and potentially costly habits to highlight? Add them in the comments below! Got amazing results from using these tips? Tell us about it!


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