From developing a more creative mindset to eliminating distractions, there are many things entrepreneurs can do to ensure success for their careers and their business. However, you cannot overlook the value of improving your communication and negotiation skills.

Being tough and firm instead of warm and nice and taking time to listen can go a long way in helping you achieve desired negotiating results.

But negotiations are about much more than what you say ...

Body language and facial expressions will also impact your negotiations. Mastering non-verbal communications could be just what you need to take things to the next level.

1. Have a genuine smile. 

People can tell when you're faking a smile -- and it can have a negative impact on your negotiations. Fake smiles are given away by a lack of muscle movement around the eyes. When you offer a real smile, you will have crow's feet near the eyes, or your eyes will partially close.

Genuine smiles influence first impressions and perceived trust levels. In an interview with The Guardian, researcher Danielle Shore of Bangor University explained that genuine smiles add perceived value to a person or the conversation itself, which influences how the person is viewed and can even affect the decisions of others.

In the university's study, students were pitted against a computerized avatar that would offer either a genuine or polite smile, with the type of smile indicating the probability of winning. Even in simulations when the polite smile gave a better chance of winning, students preferred a genuine smile. 

2. Replace tension cues with engagement actions.

Subtle actions reveal whether we're actively engaged in a conversation, or if we are uncomfortable with the negotiations. While leaning back can indicate disinterest and touching one's face can indicate discomfort, leaning forward or nodding your head illustrate that you agree with what is being said.

For me, the importance of learning to control these actions became abundantly clear during a recent coaching call with James Bell, a lawyer, real-estate investor and negotiation expert, who has spent over 15 years helping clients improve their communication skills.

He explained that the world's most persuasive negotiators practice replacing negative cues with engagement actions to appear more agreeable. They also use this knowledge to evaluate others' body language to understand how negotiations are going and adapt on the fly.

For example, if I'm in negotiations and notice that the person I'm speaking with is crossing their arms or leaning away from me, it means they're no longer engaged with what I'm saying. I need to change my approach to get them back into the conversation, partly using body language that shows I'm fully invested in the conversation.  

3. Mirror the behavior of others.

Mirroring or mimicking the behavior of others may sound childish, but it is actually a powerful sign that two individuals involved in negotiations are mentally in sync.

In fact, according to the Harvard Law Schools' Program on Negotiation, mimicry is a sign that both parties are attempting to connect and build rapport by finding common ground. When someone mimics our movements, we believe them to be more honest and persuasive.

Even simple gestures can build this rapport, such as sitting in the same position or using similar hand gestures. In authentic mimicry, even heart rates and breathing patterns will gradually line up over the course of the conversation.

4. Improve your posture.

Having good posture does much more than help you avoid backaches -- it can also play a direct role in helping you become an effective negotiator. Your posture sends subtle cues regarding your level of interest in a conversation, as well as your openness and confidence.

For better negotiating results, maintain an open posture. Avoid crossing your arms or leaning away from the other person. Instead, sit up straight, and lean forward when others are speaking to demonstrate your interest.

5. Maintain the right level of eye contact.

Maintaining eye contact can go a long way in fostering connections with others during negotiations, but it is important that you find the right balance.  Too little eye contact makes you seem untrustworthy, while too much could creep someone out or make you seem judgmental.

According to Scientific American, a University College London study found that on average, most people are comfortable with 3.2 seconds of continuous eye contact. Generally speaking, test subjects were only comfortable with longer durations if they thought the actor speaking to them looked trustworthy.

The right level of eye contact indicates genuine interest in the person you are negotiating with, and will make it easier to determine how they are responding to you. It can also help you feel more confident and remain focused on the end goal of your negotiations.

Improving your non-verbal cues takes practice, but it is well worth the effort. As you improve your body language and facial expressions, you will become more likable, trustworthy and confident. 

Published on: Nov 25, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.