Let's Make a Deal

Learn how to negotiate successfully by interpreting these 5 subconscious indicators.

By Ken Osborn | January 10, 2008

We've all heard that the best negotiations are win-win agreements, in which each side benefits from the outcome. Unfortunately, however, some negotiations leave us feeling like losers in a lopsided deal. Wouldn't it be nice if you could know the other negotiator's true motives or the intentions behind their words? This is possible, but you'll have to learn to hear by watching, not just listening to the other person.

The subconscious part of your brain controls your body's internal processes including your heartbeat, digestion and breathing. You don't have to think about these functions because your subconscious is like an auto-pilot for your body. This internal regulator can't lie, which is why subconscious gesture responses are more reliable communications than spoken words, which are consciously constructed.

You can use the five indicators below to immediately improve your deal-making ability. They'll enable you to go beyond the words to "read" the other person's inner feelings.

Confidence indication--Good negotiators know that getting the best deal is often simply a matter of knowing what is and what isn't negotiable. One of the best techniques for uncovering the proverbial "line in the sand" is to verbally probe with suggestions for concession, while visually observing for resistance. A person's subconscious indicates confident resistance by displaying a lip protrusion.

When we were kids, if another kid took our truck or doll or if we were made to share when we didn't want to, we would stick out that lower lip and even add an angry arm cross as confident resistance.

We do the same thing as grown-ups, but we indicate our aversion to compromise with a more subtle lip protrusion and/or arm cross when we are presented with a proposition that would cause us to concede beyond our wishes. When you spot this confidence indication during your presentation, consider their resistance level high and their likelihood of making that particular concession low.

Disbelief indication--One of the most valuable skills for a negotiator is to interpret when the other side distrusts the proposal or presenter. This is revealed by an eye rub. Eye rubs occur for many reasons, but during a negotiation they often indicate disbelief or a lack of confidence in the speaker. Good negotiators know that it's meaningless to attempt to close a deal when the other side is not on board, so they watch for eye rubs. The best way to handle an eye rub is to stop when you see one and say something like, "Does that sound fair to you?" or "Would you like to comment on that?" If you just treat all eye rubs like a verbal question, most of the time, you'll preserve the chance for an eventual agreement.

Pause indication--Negotiators, like some salespeople, have a tendency to talk too much. One way to keep this in check is to look for the ear tug gesture. When someone wants to interject a comment or make a suggestion while the other person is talking they'll touch, stroke or lightly tug on their ear to indicate their desire to speak.

Many body language experts think that this behavior evolved from our childhood school days when we would raise our arm to notify the teacher that we wanted to be called on to speak. As grown-ups we're more subtle but just as eager to share our opinion, so the best negotiators have learned that when they see an ear tug, they should shut up and listen.

Desire indication--When we evaluate a proposition, we indicate our contemplation by stroking/rubbing our chin and temple. Once we have determined that we do, in fact, want to take the offer, we stop evaluating and often begin to salivate. Much like Pavlov's dogs, we salivate when we desire something.

Our natural response when a want evolves into a need is to put something into our mouth--a pen, finger, eye glasses or cigar, for example. In the most subtle of examples, a customer might even indicate a desire to accept your proposal by concluding a chin stroke with a licking of the lips or even a simple swallow.

Emotion indication--Great negotiators have learned to watch for micro-expressions. These are very revealing subconscious splashes of emotion. They only last a fraction of a second and usually indicate a person's true emotion about a word, phrase or other communication.

If you're observant, you can notice micro-expressions during a presentation. Let's say, for example, that your presentation includes a flip chart with the heart of the proposal on page four. Don't worry so much about the response to the first three pages, but before you flip to page four, make sure you're watching the face of the decision-maker as you turn the page and announce the key benefit. You might say, "… and we can do all of this for only $560,000." If they immediately look shocked and then return to a normal expression, your price may be too high. If they immediately let a smile "leak" only to be erased by their normal expression, you might be under-priced.

Negotiating skill is a key ingredient in running any business. Your success will depend on your ability to interpret the other person's true interest and objections and successfully persuade them to make the deal.

Ken Osborn is the founder and executive director of The CIA Institute in Corona, California. He has taught hundreds of deception awareness seminars and workshops including the popular Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!!! Workshop and is the author of A Pack of Lies, a flashcard system designed to teach people to instantly recognize 50 common deception cues. He may be reached at

Are They Lying to You?

These 7 cues will tip you off to whether someone is being less than honest with you.

By Ken Osborn | October 18, 2007

How many times has your business suffered because you trusted the wrong person? If you're like most people, you've been lied to thousands of times.

Deception hurts in many ways. There's the emotional stress from being betrayed, the loss of self-confidence and the increased suspicion or even paranoia. Not to mention the financial cost.

A deceptive supplier may promise that a shipment will arrive by your deadline, all the while knowing that delivery by the promised date is impossible. Trusting this supplier could cost your company thousands of dollars or more. Deceptions like this can be deadly to a growing business.

But you don't have to be a victim. Here are seven subtle cues that often mean a person isn't being completely honest with you.

1. Nose touch: We have erectile tissues in our noses, which engorge with blood when we lie. This causes a tingling or itching sensation that requires a nose touch to satisfy. The absence of a nose touch doesn't guarantee truth, but the presence of a nose touch often means deception. Of course, sometimes a person will touch his or her nose because of a non-deceptive cause, such as a cold. With some practice, you can quickly learn to distinguish a deceptive nose touch from something innocent.

2. Speech disturbances: When we lie, we force our brain to pretend that the lie is true, that the truth is a lie and simultaneously remember that the real truth is that each is the other. Are you confused? So is your brain when you lie. The process of deception taxes our cognitive ability to think efficiently. So when we lie, we pause longer and speak slower than normal and often experience speech disturbances that serve as gap fillers, such as "um," "er" and "ah." Train yourself to look for deception when you hear this kind of verbal cue.

3. Incongruent behavior: When our words and our body language don't agree, our communication is incongruent. Imagine that you ask a salesman if he can assure your delivery will be on time. If he explains how certain he is about it being on time while also shaking his head--as if non-verbally saying "no"--he is incongruent. When this sort of incongruence occurs, you would do well to believe the person's body over his words.

4. Neck rub: We rub our necks because of the stress we experience when we feel that an obstacle may be insurmountable. Let's say you're interviewing a potential employee for a key leadership position and the prospective employee verbally emphasizes his interest in the job. However he also begins to rub his neck when you explain the expected duties. This probably means he doesn't feel he'll be able to accomplish the duties. He might be wrong, but if we know anything about human psychology, it's that if someone believes that they can or can't do something, they're probably right.

5. Eye rub: An eye rub is an indicator of disbelief. Let's say you have an important computer keystroke sequence to teach a new employee. The employee begins to rub her eyes even while verbally affirming your statements. This probably means that she doesn't believe you or disagrees with your instruction. It would be wise to stop and ask a question to allow the employee to verbally object. Many subordinates feel uneasy about disagreeing with the boss, but their bodies don't hesitate. Perceiving a potential problem and dealing with it early can be the difference between a simple misunderstanding and a business disaster.

6. Upward inflections: We upwardly inflect our words when asking a question. You may have noticed that some salespeople will upwardly inflect certain statements of fact. This is a red flag that should alert you to potential deception. The salesman might say, "Your competitors have seen their profit margins increase by 30 percent by using our product." If you notice that he upwardly inflected the words, "30 percent," you should disregard this statistic and be suspicious of him altogether.

7. Stabbed hollows: In the study of graphology--or handwriting analysis--hollow letters represent honesty. Anything that disrupts a hollow letter could indicate deception. Let's pretend you enter your office to find a note from your top salesman on your desk. His note indicates that he had to go out of town to visit his sick mother and won't be able to go to the annual trade show. You notice that every "o" in his note has some sort of mark interjected into the hollow space of each letter. You would be right to be suspicious of the facts in the note and a phone call or meeting would likely expose some sort of deception.

With some practice, these new awareness tools will give you greater confidence in your perceptive ability and new peace of mind when deciding to trust others.

Ken Osborn is the founder and executive director of The CIA Institute in Corona, California. He has taught hundreds of deception awareness seminars and workshops including the popular Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!!! Workshop and is the author of A Pack of Lies, a flashcard system designed to teach people to instantly recognize 50 common deception cues. He may be reached at