Body Language 35 Head Tilting

July 5, 2019

A slight tilting of the head is a really interesting bit of body language.

I will share my own interpretation first, and then I will describe some useful insight provided by body language expert, Bill Acheson, in his excellent DVD on “Advanced Body Language.”

I view a slight head tilt as a sign of high interest on the part of the person doing the tilting. I liken it to a situation many of us have experienced at a pet store.

A Puppy Trick

You walk in and see a pen with 6 puppies in it. They are all jumping up on the fence and yipping to have you pick them up.

Then you see the slight head tilt of one of those puppies who seems to be saying, “Pick me! You are the most important person in my world right now.”

If you are going home with a puppy that day, it will be the one with the tilted head. You may not even be conscious of how you made the selection, but it was unavoidable.

Translated to humans

I believe the same feeling can be generated in human beings. I once met a young man (22) who had the ability to model the gesture instinctively.

He was able to establish a feeling of trust within me toward him even before we shook hands. It was a powerful moment that I will always remember.

Very few people I have met in my life have the ability that young man had. When we finally did shake hands a second later, I did not say, “Nice to meet you.” Instead my first spoken words to him were, “Congratulations! You are going to be a very wealthy man.”

Acheson’s research showing gender differences

In Bill Acheson’s program, he stresses that head tilting is seen to be a sign of good listening, and it is perceived consciously more by woman than men.

He recounts some research he performed at University of Pittsburgh in the year 2000. He separated the men and women and showed each person two pictures of the same woman, one with her head erect and one with her head tilted.

Their research question was, “Which one is the better listener?” Seventy one percent of the females responded within three seconds that the tilted head person was the better listener. When asked why, they were able to identify, “because her head is tilted.” They saw it consciously.

Of the men, many of them puzzled over the two pictures for up to 12 seconds before making a response. Finally, about three quarters of them said, “Dude, that’s the same person, so they would listen the same.”

Other meanings of head tilting

Tilting the head can also be a means of showing mental activity. We can observe students with a slight tilt of the head when they are pondering a concept just explained in class.

Excellent teachers pick up on the body language and make sure to inquire if there is a question.

Tilting of the head can also indicate that a person is puzzling over something or working on a problem.

Pay attention to the way people hold their head when interfacing with you. When you see someone with a slight tilt while listening to you, note the mental reaction you have to that person. It is a really powerful signal.

One word of caution here. As is the case with all body language, if you are making the gesture, keep it genuine.

If you physically try to tilt your head, you are likely overdoing it, and the result will be not what you wanted. Insincere or put-on gestures often send the opposite message from what was intended.

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.


Who Can I Trust?

August 19, 2012

Imagine you have just been parachuted into a new area or organization where you do not yet know the people. All of us have been in that situation more than once in our lives. You recognize that first impressions are incredibly important and want to start off on the right foot. Of course, you introduce yourself and immediately try to get to know your new working buddies.

There is an interesting dynamic that goes on for the first few days upon entering a new organization. You are sizing up people, and they are evaluating you. Actually, behavioral scientists say the first few moments when meeting another person are incredibly important in terms of establishing the starting point for each relationship.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell refers to a phenomenon he calls “thin slicing.” He contends that human beings have a knack of sizing up other people in only 2-3 seconds, and that impression has a lot to do with how well the relationship proceeds. Of course, it is the consistent behaviors over time that ultimately determines the level of trust between people, but the rate of development is hugely impacted by the first impression.

So you are in your new environment. You recognize that some of these people will become your close confidants while others will be held at arm’s length and never fully trusted. How can you know quickly who can be trusted? Is that even important to do? I believe it is critical to identify the following seven factors as soon as possible:

1. Genuine or phony? – Does this person ring true as a person of high integrity, or is he/she a blowhard who will say things for effect?

2. Smart or Dumb? – Is the person capable of operating effectively in the working world, or is he/she bluffing along without the skills needed to be effective?

3. Friendly or Aloof? – It is easy to spot someone who is genuinely interested in you versus someone who just talks a good game.

4. Trustworthy or Shaky? – To gauge trustworthiness, be alert for eye contact. Either too little or too much eye contact can be a problem. The normal level of eye contact to be viewed as trustworthy is about 70%.

5. Consistent or Flighty? – This aspect is difficult to judge quickly. Obviously time will tell if this person is good at follow-up, but you can quickly judge the intent to be consistent. That is a starting point for some trust to grow on over time.

6. Respected or Suspect? – Other people will have knowledge of the individual you are just meeting. Watch the body language and comfort level the new person has with others in the area. That will tell you a lot about your chances of connecting with the person.

7. Honest or a Crook – Spotting someone who will lie cheat or steal is not as easy as it seems. Competent liars are out there, so you need to read signals carefully. Watch the body language, particularly the eye contact. .

It is inevitable that you will do something during the first few days that appears to be clumsy or goofy. It is normal to have a moment or two of embarrassment as you get to know new people. Don’t be thrown when this happens to you. I have found when I have done or said something stupid, it helps to say something like, “Well we always make some bonehead comment at first, I’m glad we got it out of the way so soon.” That logic plays well with other people because you signal that you do not take yourself too seriously.

When you are in a new environment, there is a lot at stake. If you get off on the wrong footing, it will take months, perhaps years, to set things right. Obviously it is important to watch your own behaviors, but beware of trying too hard. You cannot fake the body language; people will read you accurately with incredible speed. The best advice is to relax, be yourself, and be genuinely delighted to be making new friends.