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Art & Culture, Digital Media & Communications, Economics

Listen with your eyes. Respond in the body.

Often we focus so much energy on what people are saying through discourse that we overlook their body language. Many psychologists state that non-verbal communication makes up for 60-70% of human interaction; therefore, in any negotiation or conflict situation, it is vital to understand non-verbal communication. Embodiment can be defined as how the cognitive mind determines the form of the body (Merleau-Ponty). “Merleau-Ponty bases his entire phenomenological project on an account of bodily intentionality and the challenge it poses to any adequate concept of mind” (Carman, Columbia University). Referring to the idea that the mind and body is interconnected through an ontological or phenomenological framework, is one that many can agree upon given the simple neurological occurrence of our brain sending signals to our body in order for movement to occur.

Despite neurological support of this interconnection, we still have a choice in how we communicate with our bodies to align to what we verbally express. Recently, I watched a documentary called Examined Life by Astra Taylor who interviewed some of the most influential thinkers in our society such as Judith Butler, Peter Singer, and Slavoj Zizek. In the segment on Judith Butler conversing with a woman with a disability on issues regarding gender and disability. I observed Butler’s hands alternate from awkward limps to clenched fists from time to time throughout the conversation which can imply nervousness. The problem is that we don’t know if the nervousness derives from being filmed or because of the sensitivity of the topics discussed or both. This is why it can be challenging to understand the origin and intent of what you’re communicating through embodiment and affect.

What are some useful strategies in interpreting and understanding body language and cognitive communication? If you are involved in a negotiation matter, intently observe how the other body maneuvers in the situation and how it aligns to what the other is communicating. Take on an inductive approach in considering all influences and tactics in the matter, e.g. the environment, other parties involved, personal backgrounds.

  • Identify – Is there an incongruence in mind and body? If so, what is it? Why does it exist?
  • Group Signals – Observe and analyze all signals collectively. As mentioned, we don’t always know the intent of what the other communicate so a collective analysis is necessary at times.
  • Environment – Consider your surroundings. Perhaps you’re negotiating a matter on a hot day and that’s why the other seems irritable and uncomfortable.
  • Patience – Don’t be in a hurry in making any rash decisions about the others’ motives and intent. After your meeting, gather your thoughts and consider all inputs and outputs.
  • Second Opinion – There is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion. Just as we are encouraged to get a second opinion for a medical matter, a negotiation may require an outsider’s opinion as well.

These are some strategic indicators and tools of conducting a successful negotiation in relation to mind and body interaction. In my last several posts, I have provided an overview of negotiation, communicative barriers, and strategic ways to overcome these barriers. I will begin to focus on more specific situations and matters in relation to persuasion, negotiation and communication.



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