Body Language 56 Thumbs Up

November 29, 2019

The thumbs up gesture is very common and generally has a positive meaning, at least in Western cultures. There are many different interpretations of a thumbs up, so you need to pay attention to the context around the gesture.

Here are some possible meanings of a thumbs up and some contrasts with a thumbs down posture.

Way to go

A thumbs up signals approval of something said or done by another person. It is an affirming gesture that does not require words. The gesture conveys pride in what the other person has done.

I agree

When someone wants to signal agreement, the thumbs up movement will convey that message clearly. Of course, the opposite is true when the thumb is pointing down.

This meaning was evident in the famous “thumbs down” nay vote by John McCain in the Senate in July 2017, when he cast the pivotal declining vote on the Repeal of Obamacare. He said no words while casting his vote, but his thumb did the talking for him. Mitch McConnell was wincing in the background.

Go get ‘em

The thumbs up gesture is a way of encouraging an athlete or any person who is going into competition. The connotation is “I’m rooting for you.”

I’ve got your back

The gesture is often used to signal support for another person who is feeling unsure about doing an upcoming task correctly. The meaning here is “don’t worry, you will do great.”

Gratitude

The thumbs up sign can mean “thank you” when someone has done something special. It can also be a way of acknowledging a thank you from another person. Here the meaning is “you’re welcome.”

Comfort

When a person is hurting or grieving, a thumbs up gesture might be used as a show of support and empathy for the person. Obviously you need to consider the personal preferences of the individual and your relationship with that person before using the gesture in this way.

Cultural differences

Like most body language, the thumbs up gesture is culturally specific, so do not use the gesture in Australia, Greece, Russia, or the Middle East, because it may be interpreted as “up yours.” This is particularly true if the thumb is jerked upward, as in a hitch-hiking motion.

Be alert when you see a thumbs up gesture that it may mean many different things depending on the situation involved or the culture in which it is used. The interpretation is also highly dependent on the relationship between the two people. Use the gesture when it will be helpful and well received.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Body Language 37 Head Nodding

July 19, 2019

We instinctively nod our head for several reasons.

Most of us believe that to nod our head up and down is a signal of agreement, but there is some research that debunks that perception, as I will share.

First of all, head nodding is not the same in every culture.

If you are in Bulgaria, nodding your head up and down means “no” and nodding from side to side means “yes,” which is exactly the opposite behavior to that of most cultures. I read that the same is true if you are Inuit, although I cannot recall the reference.

If you notice, some politicians move their head from side to side as they answer questions. I don’t think there is anything sinister about that, but several people have that habit and are probably unaware of it.

An example of a person who does that a lot is Hillary Clinton. The difference in interpretation depends on whether the person doing the head movement is speaking or listening. I’ll focus on listening behavior in this article.

In most cultures, nodding of the head means that the listener is awake and paying attention to the content, but we need to use caution before imputing agreement.

Bill Acheson, in his excellent DVD “Advanced Body Language,” pointed to some of his own research that revealed a significant difference between men and women with head nodding while listening.

Most men nod their head to indicate agreement. The message is that “I hear you and agree with your point.” Acheson’s research showed that women head nod far more often than men, and that it is not always to indicate agreement.

For example, Bill points out that many women will nod their head before the man starts to speak. Obviously, they cannot be signaling agreement because no information has been shared yet. The head nod at this point actually is giving the man permission to speak.

Women head nod to indicate they are listening and that they understand what is being conveyed, but they may not be in agreement with the content. A woman can head nod several times, leading a male to believe she is in agreement, when she actually may not agree.

The woman may even be giving verbal signals of approval with an occasional “uh huh,” but beware; it may just be an indication of understanding rather than full agreement.

Acheson describes his research this way, “When I show a video of a female head nodding, in my audiences over 80% of the males will presume agreement and less than 25% of the time are you right.” He indicates that head nodding is the number one source of misunderstanding between men and women.

When most people nod their head while listening, it is an indication of attending the conversation. It is a conscious body language signal that indicates understanding. Be careful to confirm agreement in other ways. Nodding does not necessarily mean agreement.

 

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.TheTrust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.