Background Note | HBS Case Collection | February 2003 (Revised September 2009)

Nonverbal Communication in Negotiation

by Michael A. Wheeler and Dana Nelson

Abstract

This case distills the practical implications of current research on nonverbal communication. The first section sketches different kinds of nonverbal behavior: facial expressions, eye movements, physical gestures, paraverbal cues, posture, and "personal space." The next section looks more deeply at the interactive nature of nonverbal communication--specifically, how one person's behavior both influences and reflects what others do. The final section suggests how negotiators can make better use of nonverbal communication. Five themes run throughout the case: 1) we communicate far more information to other people than is conveyed by our words alone, 2) our nonverbal signals sometimes contradict the words we use, 3) much of this communication is less than fully conscious, 4) reading nonverbal communication is an art, not a science, and 5) nonverbal communication must be understood in the context of the broader set of interactions among all parties.

Keywords: Nonverbal Communication; Negotiation Participants; Situation or Environment; Behavior; Power and Influence;

Citation:

Wheeler, Michael A., and Dana Nelson. "Nonverbal Communication in Negotiation." Harvard Business School Background Note 903-081, February 2003. (Revised September 2009.)