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Dig Deeper Into Hidden Agendas

In your own negotiations, at work and at home, how keenly are you watching and listening to detect and take into account the real (hidden?) meanings behind what is being said?

Despite several unreceptive phone conversations, Russian President Putin and USA President Trump met at the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg. Was this signalling a move in a positive direction?

While both Putin and Trump stated they were “delighted to meet you personally”, and “it’s an honour to be with you”, was something else was going on?


Identify the unstated meaning

Observant negotiators and readers interpreted Putin and Trump’s togetherness by watching their handshakes, eye gaze, and body movements while the other spoke, and monitored their awkward pauses in between speaking.

For example, Trump used handshakes to avoid tricky situations, filled silences with ‘ums’, and ‘ahs’, and while Putin spoke Trump’s eyes darted back and forth as if unsure where to concentrate his gaze.

At their second meeting, Putin’s experience was evident. Sitting relaxed in his chair, he created silences for Trump to stumble over, and it was noticed he looked to the floor to conceal a smirk at Trump’s uncomfortableness.

Given the ongoing Putin/Trump power struggle, it was also interesting to the negotiation observer to analyse some of the verbal responses to detect what was really being said.

Here are some possible translations:

When Trump said he looked forward to: “very, very good talks”

Did he mean: “we have been disagreeing for some time now”?

What Putin said: “…and I hope, as you have said, that our meetings provide positive results”.

Did he mean: “…it is right that I should be in charge of these positive results for Russia”?

Be aware of both Body Language and Covert Language

In your own negotiations, at work and at home, how keenly are you watching and listening to detect and take into account the real (hidden?) meanings behind what is being said?

Tips on Understanding What is Not Being Said

ENS International Consultants work hard with clients to discover what are key hidden agendas motivating the other side. This is because what is not being said often contains the real drivers for decision-making. Understanding these provides the key to designing an effective strategy.

Here are some tips to detect what is not being said:

  • ‍Use a disciplined questioning technique and do not interrupt the other party as they answer – staying silent is often enlightening
  • ‍Listen carefully to ensure you take in all that is being said. This includes both 'what' they are saying and 'how' they are saying it: their tonal shifts, pauses, coughs, the 'ums' and 'ers'
  • Closely observe body language: facial expression, eye contact, gestures, body shifts. Particularly look for changes from usual patterns
  • Carefully monitor team members for incongruent signals
  • As you listen and observe, ask yourself: What? Why? What?
  1. WHAT is it that they really want (but are not saying)?
  2. WHY is it they want that (thinking deeper)?
  3. WHAT is the payback for them (thinking deeper still)?

To discuss this article in more depth and explore developing your negotiation capabilities, please contact us via email or call +612 9299 9688.

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ENS International (ENSI) provides negotiation consulting and training services helping people and organizations think and act differently to achieve more. 

Negotiators gain the edge using proven ENSI influencing processes incorporating commercial psychology with a deep understanding of human behaviour. ENSI delivers through Consulting Services and In-House or Open Course training. 

With over 60 Practitioners working within 75 countries we have a depth of experience across a diverse range of sectors.

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