Use Your Head

As I scour the internet collecting information on body language, I haven’t found a better introduction than this excerpt from

“It is safe to say that body language represents a very significant proportion of meaning that is conveyed and interpreted between people. Many body language experts and sources seem to agree that that between 50-80% of all human communications are non-verbal. So, while body language statistics vary according to situation, it is generally accepted that non-verbal communications are very important in how we understand each other (or fail to), especially in face-to-face and one-to-one communications, and most definitely when the communications involve an emotional or attitudinal element.
Body language is especially crucial when we meet someone for the first time. We form our opinions of someone we meet for the first time in just a few seconds, and this initial instinctual assessment is based far more on what we see and feel about the other person than on the words they speak. On many occasions, we form a strong view about a new person before they speak a single word.
Consequently, body language is very influential in forming impressions on first meeting someone. The effect happens both ways – to and from:
When we meet someone for the first time, their body language, on conscious and unconscious levels, largely determines our initial impression of them.
In turn when someone meets us for the first time, they form their initial impression of us largely from our body language and non-verbal signals.
And this two-way effect of body language continues throughout communications and relationships between people.
Body language is constantly being exchanged and interpreted between people, even though much of the time this is happening on an unconscious level.
Remember – while you are interpreting (consciously or unconsciously) the body language of other people, so other people are constantly interpreting yours.
The people with the most conscious awareness of, and capabilities to read, body language tend to have an advantage over those whose appreciation is limited largely to the unconscious.
You will shift your own awareness of body language from the unconscious into the conscious by learning about the subject, and then by practicing your reading of non-verbal communications in your dealings with others. Body language is more than body positions and movements. Body language is not just about how we hold and move our bodies.”

When it comes to how we hold and move our bodies, the head as the center of operation, is a key indicator of the meaning of communication.

The head can tell us how someone is agreeable and in rapport with us and how engaged, enthusiastic, and committed a listener is in what is being said.

Here are five important messages the head is giving.

The Nod
When we are engaged in a conversation with a person we like or want to build rapport with, we naturally mirror the other person’s behaviors. One way a speaker will check fir agreement is with an up and down head nod. When this happens, it is difficult not to nod back.

If we do not nod, we are communicating either

  • We didn’t get it.
  • We don’t agree.
  • We agree but we don’t really like them at the moment.
  • If we nod slowly, we are saying “I’m listening. Please continue.”
  • If we nod quickly, we are saying, “I’ve got it move on to the next point.”
  • A small nod with a smile is an encouraging and bonding signal.

The Doggie Tilt
Depending on the context, the head tilt can mean:

  • Continue speaking, I find this important.
  • It can be sympathetic. “Are you ok?”
  • A head tilt with a hand to the chin means I am evaluating what you said.
  • A head tilt with the head pulled back can show surprise.
  • A head tilt with a slight smile shows a playful engaged attitude.

Head Thrust / Head Retreat

  • Chin out is an aggressive/ attack pose.
  • Chin tucked back is a defensive/ retreat pose.

The Cut Off

This is quickly pulling your head to the side saying, “I don’t want to hear any more.”

The Head Shake
Most of the time, shaking your head from side-to-side means ‘No’. But it can also convey micro-messages depending on the rhythm and speed.


  • A fast and rhythmic head shaking definitely says – “no, I disagree, this is not true.”
  • A slow and irregular turning of the head usually signals misunderstanding. Something didn’t get through quite right.
  • Slow and rhythmic head shaking can also signal disbelief. We cannot accept what we just heard.

As I said yesterday, you already know these things. I am just bringing them to your conscious mind by sharing them here and now you (and I) can be intentional about using these head movements for better communication and connection.

Why not try a friendly experiment today? Go make someone’s day by purposefully using a head movement that shows them you regard them highly. Perhaps a head tilt with a slight nod and a smile.


Rick Burris

PS – Here is a little secret. While you are making someone else’s day, you are practicing higher emotional intelligence, because now you are more aware that you have a menu of choices from which to select the response that not only best suits the situation, but demonstrates your capacity to create an outcome.


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