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.


Body Language 34 Proximity

June 29, 2019

Have you ever been talking with another person from a different culture and had the distance between both of you cause you to be uncomfortable? It happens all the time to business people who deal with multiple cultures.

If you want to see how uncomfortable proximity can be, take a look at this hilarious two-minute clip of a Seinfeld episode. Just go to Youtube and search on “Close Talker.” It illustrates the issue perfectly.

Proximity rules between cultures

The rules for comfortable proximity are mostly governed by the home country of the people involved. The comfortable distance between you and another person is one thing for you and may be something very different for the other person. There are some general trends that will help you navigate this sticky part of body language successfully.

According to Sue Bryant in Country Navigator, “Contact cultures – southern European, Latin American and Arabian – engaged in more touching and stood closer during conversation than non-contact cultures in northern Europe, north America and parts of Asia.”

In the USA, most social conversation happens in the range of three to five feet. Conversation at a distance less than 18 inches is considered an invasion of a person’s “intimate” range. The “personal” range is 18-36 inches, while the “social” range is 3 to 12 feet.

Argentina is generally considered the most close proximity culture, whereas USA and Great Britain have more space between individuals when talking.

“Romanians clearly take longer to establish trust; they came out with the widest distance you should stand from a stranger – more than 1.3m – but one of the narrowest gaps for close friends…” (Bryant)

Staking out territory

Most creatures are territorial by nature. I have a bird that drives me crazy by pecking at my window. The bird sees its reflection and thinks it is an intruder.

Dogs have a unique way of marking their territory as they raise their leg next to a fire hydrant.

Humans are more subtle than animals, but we also have numerous territorial gestures.

You can observe a person sitting on the subway with brief case on the seat on one side and a newspaper on the seat on the other side. The message is “stay away, these seats are taken.”

Think about how you jockey for position when several lanes of traffic compress to just two when entering a tunnel or a tollbooth.

How about your behavior at the open buffet or waiting in line at the airport. We all have ways of indicating areas we claim and subtly suggest that others steer clear.

Greeting others

The normal ritual for greeting a person you are just meeting is to use a handshake. It is best to use the right hand only when meeting a person for the first time. Sometimes special situations call for fist bumping or other gestures.

A two-handed handshake is fine once you have become acquainted with a person, but it is far too presumptuous when first meeting someone.

Some people like to give a hug or “abrazo” as a cordial way to greet someone they already know. I think it is wise to use caution as the rules on hugging are becoming more restrictive. It is best to hold back until you see the other person extending his or her arms for a hug.

Sending Signals

We constantly send signals to other people about our desires relative to proximity. Normally, people are sensitive enough to pick up the signal and act appropriately; however, sometimes people are just clueless as to what is going on.

Many an individual has misinterpreted a signal as one to get closer only to be rejected later.

Misunderstandings can happen in any setting: business, social, formal, informal, in public, in private, and even within families. Be alert to the obvious and subtle signals from others about your proximity to them. Doing so can be good for your reputation and enhance your friendships.

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. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


The Scar Never Really Goes Away

September 25, 2011

Most of us have had a miscommunication situation where another individual took umbrage at something we said. Let’s suppose that the problem was truly a misinterpretation of what you meant and that you were able to go to the other person and set the record straight. Now the issue is behind you both, right? Wrong!

The problem is that, for deep wounds, the scar tissue never fully heals. Sure you are able to go on, forgiven for the gaffe, but there is always going to be a degradation of trust in the mind of the other person. Nothing either of you can say or do can totally erase the issue. So how can you proceed? Does this mean that every time there is an innocent mistake, irreparable damage is done. Thankfully no!

The trick is to acknowledge the gaffe, work to heal the ill feelings as much as possible, then seek other trust building techniques to more than make up for the permanent loss due to the slip up. Actually, if you both work at it, the trust can come out higher than ever before, even though the scar is still there. It is as if the rest of the skin around the scar has become so strong and beautiful that even though there is still an imperfection, it is overridden by the surrounding area.

Think of a merger situation where one party inadvertently left some assets off a list. In the due diligence process, the error was discovered by the other party. The relationship can never be exactly the same as it was before the situation occurred, but with the proper rehabilitation, the trust can actually come out stronger than before. This situation can be more complex than I am representing here because it might be the accused person who is feeling the betrayal rather than the accuser, since the mistake was an honest oversight. It all depends on the situation and the temperament of the individuals.

The same remedial logic is operational if the betrayal was due to an actual deception rather than a misunderstanding. In these cases, the scar tissue is particularly deep, and it may be impossible to repair the damage, despite the effort. Many people at work or organizations that have merged know the pain of a complete collapse of trust. In serious cases, trust never does come back, and the individuals live with the duplicity or agree to go their separate ways.

A falling out in the work environment, whether justified or not is something that removes huge amounts of built-up trust. Good dialog and a conscious attempt to set the record straight are excellent first steps, but we need to go beyond these remedies to make the main focus of the relationship be the positive forward aspects instead of scars from the past. This means seeking out ways to generate more trust over an extended period of time.


Trust Avoids Miscommunication – Especially Online

September 18, 2011

Communication problems in e-mail are not hard to find. I often ask my students to cite an example of when they wrote something online that got an unexpected and unhappy reaction. I have yet to meet a student that cannot think of at least one major gaffe brought about by words online without being able to see the body language.

There are many antidotes to this problem. One that I find particularly effective is to have high trust. When people know each other and trust each other, the things that could set off hurt feelings, or e-grenade battles are often resolved quickly with little effort. The following story is a great example of how trust can prevent damaging misunderstandings.

Recently, an e-mail exchange between some Board members for a local professional organization got off track. Sally had been doing a wonderful job with her responsibilities as the VP of Membership. The roster had grown by about 25% in the previous year, and we were all praising her for a job well done. Sally took the opportunity to bring a prospective new BOD member named Sharon to the meeting. All of the existing BOD members were happy to welcome Sharon to the group since her expertise could fill a vacancy we had on the BOD.

After the meeting, Sally wrote an e-mail to the group thanking all of us for welcoming Sharon to the group so warmly. Sally’s main message was “thank you.” Tom, the VP of Technology wrote back to Sally the following message. “No…Thank You!”

When I read Tom’s note, I thought how odd he would be saying “No Thank you” to a critical new resource that would actually help spell him from trying to cover for the vacant player. I looked at the message again, because knowing and trusting Tom, I knew he could not have really meant it. Then, I noticed the ellipsis mark (three periods) between “No” and “Thank you.” The ellipsis mark indicates that some information was left out for brevity. It took only a few seconds to determine that Tom’s real message to Sally was, “Not at all Sally…We should be thanking you!” He had just left out the extra words to be efficient.

When I asked Sally about the answer, she said that her reaction at first was also highly negative. Then, as with me, she quickly figured out Tom’s true meaning.

The point of this story is that if any of us did not know and trust Tom, it would have been very easy to misconstrue his meaning. That could have resulted in a lot of damage control with Sally and especially with Sharon, the new person on the BOD. It was that level of trust that allowed us to get by a possible problem without a hiccup. Think about all the other less obvious communication issues that are prevented when trust exists within a group.