Negotiating Leadership

Close the deal by walking away. Do actions speak louder than words? Brendan Byrne looks at how physical action can influence outcomes for managers.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines negotiation as; “An act of negotiating.” How could a physical act influence a decision?

Look to the example of an American-Indian tribe losing their land to government action. Their lawyers were unable to influence the outcome at a series of crisis meetings. Before the final meeting, tribal members prepared by learning how to breathe in rapport with others by watching their chests rise and fall while breathing to match the same rhythm. Breathing in rapport with government officials was the only change from previous meetings. The government overturned their decision to take the Indian land, during a meeting that uncovered no new facts or legal reasoning.

Demand for Leadership

A leader’s ability to negotiate an outcome is highly valued. Engaging your people can link directly to the bottom line.

New trends in engagement are revealed in the Deloitte 2015 Global Human Capital Trends survey. Global and New Zealand based leaders and Human Resource (HR) professionals were asked to rate the importance of key areas:

Building Leadership is ranked as the number one talent issue, for the third year in a row.

Either your organisation is aware of the need to retain your leadership, or you need to retain your own leaders. Or both. In a fast-paced employment market, you’ll need to negotiate win-win outcomes at short notice. Let’s look at current techniques of physical persuasion.

Advanced body language

I will leverage Alfred Merabian’s research, on the amount of meaning we take from words versus body language.

  • 7% of meaning in the words that are spoken.
  • 38% of meaning is from tone, or other verbal aspects.
  • 55% of meaning is in body language.

We’ll move on from body language 101; knowing that a smile, eye contact and open body language will build rapport – a sense of shared understanding. How will it influence a negotiation?

Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a set of tools using the language that the brain is most familiar with. I was fortunate to study NLP with Richard Bolstad of Transformations, who introduced me to Mirroring and Matching. Mirroring `mirrors’ the same body language to a person in front of you, while Matching is subtler. For example, if the other person closes their hands together, you might keep yours open while placing them closer together on the table. The visual familiarity gives a person the sense that they have been listened to. The subtle and occasional use of these actions ensures that they are seen as genuine.

Does it work?

I used Mirroring and Matching to negotiate my first ever consultancy fee with a company director, at slightly above market rate. We sat while I mirrored his body language, then matched his movements subtly as I introduced the written proposal. I then moved my chair around to sit beside him, as I turned the page revealing my price. I sat beside him to give the visual impression of open space in front of him, for a non-intrusive decision. I asked for confirmation, he agreed within a couple of seconds.

Recognising signs of engagement can be crucial. Eye assessing cues have been used in law enforcement to detect potential lies. Watching a person’s eyes look up to the left usually indicates that they are remembering a picture, while looking up to the right means they are creating a picture. While it’s not a guaranteed lie detector, it’s a definite sign that the other person’s thoughts are engaged.

I once negotiated for resources with a Tier 3 manager; who gave guarded, single-word answers to my questions. I noticed that when I asked about his vision of success; his eyes looked up then back and forth, left and right. This comparison of memory and creation showed engagement, as the right time for me to ask for resources. He instantly agreed, offering more resource than I had asked for.

In conclusion

Are actions louder than words? Your actions could be the Trojan Horse to let your words be heard by a more receptive audience. With leadership skills at a premium in the market, your ability to negotiate win-win outcomes will benefit both your organisation and your career.

If you’d like to develop your own skills in influence and negotiation, there are options. The Institute of Management New Zealand has a range of over 60 courses to attend, or we can tailor training to your organisation and deliver it at your premises. IMNZ helps New Zealanders to step up into relevant training and keep skill current in a changing market. If you’d like to know more on our courses or how to deliver your own training, send us an email at [email protected] or give us a call on 0800 800 694.

Brendan Byrne is IMNZ’s Wellington-based Learning and Leadership Facilitator.


Mehrabian, A. Silent messages: Implicit communication of emotions and attitudes. 1981.

Deloitte 2015 Global Human Capital Trends survey, Chris Boggs presentation to IMNZ, 22 September 2015.

Boulstad, R. Transformations, Strategies Of Success and Strategies of Transformation. 2005.

Recent Articles

Leading through Change
Leading through Change

In the whirlwind of today's ever-evolving world, change is like that uninvited guest who insists on staying. Whether it's trying to keep up with new technologies, riding the rollercoaster of market shifts, or managing unforeseen crises, one thing is clear: effective...

What are micro-credentials and why should you care?
What are micro-credentials and why should you care?

‘Micro-credential’ is fast becoming an ubiquitous buzzword not only in the education industry but in corporate and government sectors as well. To some it’s being sold as the saviour to every capability problem ever created, to others it’s seen as just more of the same...

Quiet Quitting: A Symptom We Should Address, Not Demonise
Quiet Quitting: A Symptom We Should Address, Not Demonise

In recent months, the term “quiet quitting” has entered the cultural lexicon, striking fear into the hearts of managers and leaders everywhere. On the surface, the concept seems straightforward: employees doing only the bare minimum required of them, disengaging from...