Nonverbal communication is defined as sharing information by nonverbal means (“Communication,” 2013). In the situation when negotiators speak different languages and cannot convey what they need verbally, they should focus on their non-verbal communication signals. According to Carol Goman, “By paying more attention to what your body language is saying, you can become more proficient at incorporating nonverbal signs of confidence, trust, and credibility” (Goman, 2008, p.94). In addition, the negotiators may substantially use audio-visual communication and communication through action to convey their messages to the other party.
In terms of body language use, the negotiators may be advised to use facial expressions. In particular, smiling implies “I’m friendly and approachable” and shows invitation. Maintaining positive eye contact implies that a person is open, and it assumes greater liking; eye contact also implies whether the person is interested or not. At the same time, holding eye contact for too long may imply intrusiveness, hostility or inappropriate intimacy. Business: The Ultimate Resource provides he following recommendation regarding eye contact, “In a business setting, confine your gaze to the other person’s eyes and forehead; stay away from the more intimate glance to the person’s lips or upper body” (“Understanding Nonverbal Communication,” 2011). Another part of a face that can be used to communicate ideas is eyebrows. In particular, if a person draws together the eyebrows, it may indicate concern, question, or doubt. Also, raising both eyebrows up so that they go close to the hairline implies surprise or amazement whereas lifting just one eyebrow suggests cynicism or suspicion.

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Further, gestures, props, and territory are important means of conveying messages during the negotiations. Although the meanings of gestures varies from culture to culture, some more or less universal ones are shrugging (means “I don’t know”), nodding (means “Yes”), and side-to-side nodding (means “No”). Other gestures should be used with caution, since a single gesture, such as an American hand gesture for OK (the forefinger/thumb circle) or a victory sign, can have opposite and even offensive meanings in other cultures (“Different Types of Nonverbal Communication in Business,” 2015). It means that during the negotiations only relevant gestures should be used so that confusion is avoided. For example, standing when one is being introduced to higher-ranking or older people implies respect; avoidance of leaning back will help sustain an impression that you are interested and open. “Interactional synchronizing” when people simultaneously move or pick up coffee cups also implies interest and cooperation (Goman, 2011). Props can also be used during the negotiation. Props refers to various things that can be used to reinforce a messages, such as a pointer, a finger, and even a cigarette. Another example is the choice of a chair at a table: choosing the one at the head will imply power. Territory, too, can be used effectively to deliver nonverbal messages. Specifically, one should respect a private, egg-shaped space around another person’s body and should avoid trespassing the imaginary boundary. For establishing rapport, avoidance of creating barriers (such as desks, chairs, or even holding a glass) is recommended.

Apart from this, speakers can use audio-visual communication and communication by action. In the first case, sound and pictures, using the overhead projector or other technical devices, can help convey intended messages. This can be particularly useful in the situations when communication about some technical details takes place. In the second case, actions are used to demonstrate one’s attitude to the matter (interest, willingness to cooperate, seriousness, etc). One example may be coming on time and being punctual.

Overall, the use of facial expression, gestures, props, territory, and action is crucial in non-verbal communication during the negotiation. If some technical details are to be discussed audio-visual communication should be used.

Now considering the question of two hand gestures that differ in meaning depending on a culture, these are previously mentioned gestures “OK” and “V.” In the former, the forefinger and the thumb make the circle. In the Western, particularly in the American culture, this gesture implies compliance and agreement, and is an absolutely positive sign. In the latter, the fingers make horns. This placement of fingers so that they show horns stands for “rock on” in the American culture, and is also a positive sign.

However, there are such cultures in the world that regard these gestures obscene and insulting. In particular, the okay sign of a circular shape is thought to be extremely rude in Greece, Brazil, and Spain. According to Sophie Forbes (2015), “In those countries it means that you are calling someone an a** hole.” In addition, this hand gesture means an insult towards homosexuals in Turkey. As for the second sign, the so-called “horns”, it is considered rather offensive in Spain, Portugal, Columbia, Italy, Brazil, and Greece. Known as “corna,” this sign addresses a man when someone wants to show that his wife cheats on him. Over 2,500 years old, this signal shows the horns of a bull. As Baulch observes, “Often done behind a guy’s back rather than to his face, this gesture’s a popular insult at soccer matches” (Baulch, 2013).

In summary, both hand gestures – the okay signal and the horns – are perceived differently across the globe. If in the United States, they are normal everyday gestures implying positive things, in other countries (of Europe and Latin America) these gestures are considered obscene and are used to insult people. Therefore, these gestures should be used with caution overseas.

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  • Forbes, S. (2015). 18 gestures that can cause offense around the world. Retrieved from
  • Goman, C. K. (2011). What’s so great about face-to-face? Communication World, 28 (3), 38-39.
  • Goman, C. K. (2008). Watch your language. T+D, 62 (8), 94-95.
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