Body language refers to a form of non-verbal communication whereby physical behaviour – rather than words – are used to express or convey information. Contrary to popular belief, body language isn’t just about body movements and gestures. It also includes non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, eye contact or movements, posture, touch and the use of space. There have been many studies on body language and how they can affect negotiations at the workplace, and body language is very much linked to the ability to connect with the person you are talking to.
In the area of traditional and e-procurement, buyers are constantly advised to develop a comprehensive procurement policy to guide them throughout the entire procurement cycle. While that may be true, a procurement policy focuses more on the technical aspects of the procurement cycle, and less so where body language is concerned. Understanding the basics of procurement body language can alert you to certain conscious and unconscious non-verbal cues given out by the supplier and help you to keep your own procurement body language in check. In this article, we take a look at positive procurement body language practices and how to use them to your advantage during negotiations.
Putting others at ease
The beauty of the traditional procurement process – as opposed to e-procurement – is that it allows you to come face-to-face with your potential supplier, giving you a clearer idea on his/her personality and general feelings about the proposed business deal. When negotiating, procurement body language experts suggest that you refrain from facing the person you are talking to straight on as it can be construed as confrontational for both parties, albeit unconsciously. Instead, try addressing your potential supplier at a 45-degree angle or greater by slightly opening up your shoulders to him/her when standing or sitting. If you’re in a boardroom, swivel your chair to the suggested angle so that you you’re not staring at each other across the table. This not only puts others at ease, but also shows that you do not project hostility and are keen for a pleasant discussion.
Getting the message across clearly
General procurement policies advocate asking lots of questions to clarify contract details and ensure that both parties are on the same page when it comes to pricing concerns and procurement cycle processes. When answering a question, you may feel pressured to think on your feet and offer a detailed explanation on the topic at hand. This may sometimes cause you to speak quickly or even start to babble. If this happens, there is a chance that the supplier may not understand what you are trying to say as different people process information at different rates. You do not want to lose the supplier’s business due to poor communication, so it’s important to sync your speaking pace with that of his/hers. To do this, take note of the pace of their speech and adjust your own pace to match theirs. This method may not be suitable for e-procurement, but works wonderfully when carrying out negotiations in person or over the phone.
Demonstrating active listening
Part of positive procurement body language entails showing the other party respect and assuring them that their concerns, requirements and interests are important to you. A fruitful negotiation requires both parties to get their points across clearly but in the desire to provide more information, one might become overexcited and speak hurriedly, making it difficult for others to keep up.
Studies have shown that people remember just 10% of information provided to them orally and 20% of information provided to them visually. However, when given information both orally and visually, 80% of the content presented is retained, highlighting the importance of procurement body language in the negotiation process, in addition to being vocal. Taking the time to be silent while listening to the other party speak also does wonders to assure them that you are absorbing and internalising the information given. Everyone wants to be heard, and you can help ensure that your potential supplier feels heard by exhibiting the right procurement body language.
Maintaining good business relations
Facial expressions play a big role in procurement body language, and have the power to make or break a procurement deal. Unlike the e-procurement process, traditional procurement involves negotiating a deal that is mutually beneficial in person. Oftentimes, people are able to pick up cues from the person that is talking from the facial expressions displayed. A frown or a worried look gives off a negative vibe and causes everyone at the discussion table to feel nervous or anxious, which may produce an unfavourable outcome. It’s important to remember that in a negotiation setting, your facial expressions will be scrutinised more closely than usual, so keeping yourself calm and composed helps to put you in a relaxed state, which will be reflected in your facial expression. Continue to give off positive vibes by smiling encouragingly and nodding in agreement periodically, while maintaining eye contact occasionally.
Do keep in mind that the other party will be looking to see that your physical gestures mirror your words. Words that don’t coincide with actions – saying no while nodding – tells people that you are unsure – or worse, that you are lying – so be sure to match your physical gestures with your words.
While there is no sure-fire way to guarantee a positive outcome in negotiations, knowing the best practices of procurement body language will give you an added advantage. Of course, it is imperative to also carry out your due diligence and come prepared with the necessary information and questions. Subsequently, a professional attitude and a pleasant personality, coupled with positive procurement body language at the negotiating table should greatly advance your agenda of closing the deal on a high note.
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