Body Language 98 Head Shaking While Talking

October 30, 2020

There is an interesting form of body language that some people do while they are talking. It is moving their head from side to side. I am not sure what the origin is, but I see it in some commercials where people are advertising a healthcare service.

My guess is that the gesture is intended to make the person speaking seem to be more believable or genuine. It may be interpreted as being sincere, as in saying, “We are going to take good care of your mother.”

The gesture can also be observed when people eat particularly delicious food. I suppose the meaning is, “I can’t believe how good this Key Lime Pie tastes.”

You also see the gesture used in politics, particularly by female politicians. Two people I have seen do this on numerous occasions are Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton. It seems incongruous because, for most people, moving the head from side to side is thought to mean “no,” but these women use it to appear more credible.

The gesture is also commonly used to convey disbelief. If someone is telling you a tall tale about how he ate two gallons of ice cream in one sitting, you might be shaking your head slowly from side to side in disbelief. Remember the old adage, “never eat anything bigger than your head.”

The gesture, as with many other parts of body language, is culture specific.There are some cultures where the gesture is seen much more often than in the USA and with a different meaning. For example, in some southern European Countries such as Albania or Bulgaria, the gesture means “yes” rather than “no.”

Another interesting observation is that when babies are hungry for breast milk, they nod their heads up and down, but when they want to reject the breast milk they move their heads from side to side. Of course, babies do not have the cultural programming for gestures that come along later in life.

Another variant of the side to side head gesture is the Indian or South Asian Head Bobble. Here the head does move from side to side but it sort of rocks or tilts back and forth on top of the neck. In these cultures, the gesture is very common, and it can mean different things based on the context. One common meaning is, “I understand.” Another meaning can be, “Thank you.” If done slowly and with a slight frown, it often means, “I respectfully decline.”

Look for the head shaking gesture, and when you see it, look for other clues, such as the configuration of the mouth or the position of the eyebrows. These secondary clues can help you determine the true meaning of the gesture in that instance. Of course, the context of what is going on also will give you valuable insights.




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



Trust is Like Ice Cream

June 15, 2014

Ice creamMost people think of trust as one thing. We believe we know what the word means, but when I ask groups to define it, they come up with several different answers.

Groups typically come up with more than 20 different definitions of trust in about 10 minutes. All of the answers are correct, so it means that trust is a lot more complex than most of us realize.

Generic trust, meaning “assured reliance,” is easy to understand, but the complexities of the concept can boggle the mind.

If you are blindfolded, and you trust me enough to put some food in your mouth, you will easily identify it as ice cream.

You know the consistency, temperature, and creamy-sweet taste instantly.

Then, if I ask you what flavor ice cream you are eating, that may cause you to think a bit. When we cannot see what we are eating or drinking, our taste is not nearly as reliable as we might imagine.

For example, I cannot tell the difference between grape and orange soda when blindfolded. Before doing the test, I was 100% certain that distinguishing the two different tastes would be easy.

With ice cream, it is likely that I would be unable to tell the difference between cherry and black raspberry or perhaps even chocolate.

The metaphor works because while we know what trust is generically, the subtle distinctions between various types of trust may be harder to distinguish.

For example, I might trust you to feed my cat while I am on vacation, but not trust you to overhaul my car engine. That’s because I might not trust your competence in that area.

I could easily trust you to get change for a 20 dollar bill, but might think twice about giving you $10,000 in cash to deposit at the bank. That is because I put limits on what I am willing to risk, even though I trust you. Trust is never absolute.

I might trust you to admit you made a mistake, but not believe you are capable of discerning truth from fiction. Or I might “Trust” that you will get it incorrect every time. It can get pretty convoluted.

It is impossible to list all the kinds of trust in our lives. Clearly, trust is not just one thing.

Most of us have trust in abundance all around us every day. We have some level of trust with every person we know. We may trust the products we use, or we may not.

Hopefully we trust the organizations we work for, but that is not always the case.

For example, the Edelman Trust Barometer measurements show that in the United States, roughly 55% of people trust business to do what is right, but less than 20% of people trust their leaders to tell the truth when faced with a difficult situation.

We would find it hard to even go to a store if we did not trust the infrastructure of roads and bridges.

When we turn on the news, we find it difficult to trust the validity because we can dial up whatever flavor of news we want to hear at the moment.

Our trust in the media has consistently gone down for several years as we watch the various news outlets try to undermine each other. They have given up the pretext of being “fair and unbiased” and readily admit their news is flavored,  just like ice cream.

The complexity and variety of how trust is manifest in our lives boggles the mind, yet we need to trust in things and people every day.

The whole matter of trust becomes a kaleidoscope of images and textures that we interpret every day all day long without even thinking about it. The result is that we have confidence or not depending on what it all means to us at that moment. It is highly fluid and situational. It is also very fragile.

Although we use the word trust frequently, and it generally means one concept, we need to recognize the phenomenon is far more ubiquitous and complex than we realize. Take more notice of how trust is working in your life, and you will enhance the quality of your relationships.