Pose, Handshake & Mimicry: Psychological Strategies for Negotiations

I know this is about Brexit, but forget that part and concentrate on the body language and psychological strategies.

“AS THE dust settles following the election, Brexit secretary David Davis finally begins formal negotiations on the UK’s divorce from the European Union. With a hung parliament and a much weakened Conservative government, Davis and his team are on the back foot. They will need all the help they can get.

Body language and psychological strategies could give them a lift. Feeling empowered and self assured is vital. This makes you more quick-witted and optimistic, more likely to think abstractly and make the first move.

To feel powerful, research at Harvard University suggested adopting superhero-style “power poses”. Volunteers who stood like Superman for a minute or so – legs akimbo, hands on hips and elbows bent – were later rated as better performers in high-stakes situations.

Team GB should assume the position just before the talks, as it’s unclear how long effects last. If that doesn’t work, a swift standing yoga pose could have a similar effect (best to avoid looking like you’re praying for divine intervention though).

As the Brits enter the ring, they should walk tall with shoulders back and heads up. That will send
the message they aren’t to be messed about. Air kisses probably won’t wash, so Davis and co could offer a handshake. According to a University of Alabama study, this is more likely to win hearts if it is
strong, lasts three to four seconds and includes eye contact.

Davis could bolster perceptions of trustworthiness when required by deferring to team members
with specific facial characteristics. Psychologists at the University of British Columbia found that more pronounced cheekbones, rounder faces and higher eyebrows can be seen as more trustworthy. He could also turn mimicry to his advantage. Research shows that when a negotiator is copied for more than 5 minutes, they become more likely to reach an agreement with the other side.

Can’t get a clear answer on post-Brexit financial regulation or single market access? Again, mimicry might help. Coax the other side into revealing their cards by copying the key players’ posture and stance more closely. Fold your hands, crook your head, “um” and “ah” in time; a French study found that students were more likely to answer increasingly intimate questions if their interviewers copied such gestures.

What if the Brits get backed into a corner? Take time out to have a rethink. If they can get in sync during the break they may find a way through. Stanford University research found bobbing heads in time, and moving arms and limbs in a coordinated manner led to more creative problem-solving. Ultimately, if all else fails, try a mantra, as they seem to promote brain activity that has a calming effect. Repeat “Brexit means Brexit” a dozen times and, fingers crossed, all will seem well again.” (Adams, 2017, p.24-25).


Adams, W.L. (2017) Try A Power Pose. New Scientist. 24 June 2017.


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