Body Language 94 Head Nodding

September 23, 2020

I sized this series on body language to be 100 chapters long. I am reaching the end of the line and hope the information that I have shared over the past 2 years has been helpful and useful to you.

For the final chapters, I want to highlight some information I learned from a wonderful program entitled “Advanced Body Language” by Bill Acheson: a researcher from University of Pittsburgh. Here is a five-minute video promo for the entire program, which runs a total of 74 minutes.

If you are serious about knowing as much as you can about body language, I recommending investing in this program. Not only is it entertaining, it contains numerous tips that you will not find elsewhere.

In this article, I will highlight some content that Bill shared about head nodding.

Bill draws distinction between men and women in a number of content areas. In doing so, he always is careful to not imply that all men do something and all women to something else. He is speaking from research that identifies general patterns within groups of people. Recognize there will always be some people who are outliers and do not follow any specific trend.

The idea here is that head nodding is the number one source of misunderstanding between women and men. Bill’s research shows that, for a man who is listening, head nodding almost always implies agreement. We nod to indicate that we agree.

For women, head nodding does not necessarily correlate with agreement. So, the advice he has is to not assume agreement when a woman as a listener is nodding her head.

His research shows that when he shows a video of a conversation between a woman and a man where the woman is nodding her head, over 80% of the males in the audience assume she is in agreement and only 25% of the time are they right.

Actually, one in three women will head nod before you begin to speak. What is she agreeing with? Bill suggest that the head nod before a male starts to speak is actually giving him permission to speak.

The second reason she nods is to indicate that she is listening.

The third reason she nods is to show attentiveness.

The fourth reason she nods is to show understanding.

Here is the important distinction. Bill points out that for a male, understanding and agreement are almost the same thing. But for most women, understanding is not an indication of agreement. In fact, Bill quips, “if you draw a map of the average female mind, understanding is in the upper left corner and agreement is in Boca Raton, Florida; there is no connection.”

We need to take these trends into account as we interface with the opposite sex. Again, these trends do not hold in every case or for every pair of people, so don’t be fooled. Just realize that there is a lot of statistical research behind some of the directional observations Bill Acheson has measured.

I will share some more observations he makes in the final six chapters of this series.


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.