Effective communication includes an awareness of not only what you say, but also how you say it.
However, another important tool of communication is body language. We all know that actions speak louder than words. Our bodies give away signals of how we feel, what our true intentions are, and what we’re not saying. So we may be sitting on a crowded sectional sofa during a family gathering without saying a word, yet communicating clearly to anyone who glances over.
Gestures and body language are so ingrained that we take them for granted. We are almost unaware of behaviors such as tapping a pen, stroking the side of our noses or yawning. Yet, the fact that such behavior is virtually unconscious makes it a real clue to what we’re really thinking and feeling.
Mixed Messages of Head Gestures
When looking at effective communication then, we need to examine what our body language is saying to others. Even some of the most basic gestures, such as nodding our heads can give mixed messages.
In most cultures, when we want to say “yes” or show agreement, we nod our heads. This action comes from bowing; the person symbolically begins to bow, but stops short, resulting in a nod. Bowing is one of the most submissive gestures and the head nod stemming from this indicates that we are going along with the other person’s point of view. Allan and Barbara Pease, authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language (2004, Orion), states that research conducted with “people who were born deaf, dumb and blind shows that they also use this gesture to signify ’Yes’, so it appears to be an inborn gesture of submission.”
It’s easy to assume then, that a head nod means “yes” the world over. However, in India, the head is rocked from side to side to say “yes”, a gesture that most Westerners would associate with “either – or” or “maybe yes, maybe no”. Furthermore, in Japan, head nodding can be misinterpreted; it doesn’t necessarily mean “Yes, I agree with you”, it usually means “Yes, I hear what you’re saying.” Be aware too that in Arab counties, a single, upward head movement means “no”, whereas Bulgarians shake their heads to mean “yes” rather than “no”.
Using the Power of the Head Nod as a Tool of Persuasion
Once you are clear about the meaning of the head nod, head wobble and head shake, consider the power of head nodding as a tool of persuasion. Pease and Pease cite research showing that “people will talk three to four times more than usual when the listener nods their head using groups of three nods at regular intervals.” The speed of the head nod is a clue to how patient the listener is feeling. “Slow nodding communicates that the listener is interested in what the speaker is saying so give slow, deliberate clusters of three head nods when the other person is making a point,” they say.
On the other hand, if you want to tell a speaker that you’ve heard enough, want them to finish, or want a turn to speak yourself, it’s time to start nodding quickly. This is a way to interrupt and get involved in a conversation or bring it back under your control without using words.
“Body language is an unconscious outward reflection of inner feelings” say Pease and Pease, so if someone’s head is nodding as they speak, it is a sign that they are feeling positive or affirmative. It iss even the case that “if you simply start nodding your head intentionally, you will begin to experience positive feelings”, almost as if agreeing with yourself generates as much feel-good factor as someone else agreeing with your point of view.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Because head nodding is very contagious, it is an excellent tool for creating rapport, encouraging agreement and getting co-operation. Pease and Pease have found that if someone “nods their head at you, you will usually nod too – even if you don’t necessarily agree with what they are saying.” They recommend finishing your sentences with verbal affirmations like “don’t you think?”, “isn’t it?”, or “wouldn’t you?”, plus plenty of nodding. In this way the listener experiences positive feelings which increase the chances of their agreeing with you. Clearly, if you want to get co-operation from other people, it’s time to start using your head.
If you are interested in this post, you might consider the following posts
1) Persuasion Tactics Simplified
2) Social Situations and Small Talk
3) Improve Your Communication Skills
Thursday, April 5, 2012