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Can you interpret the head’s language?

Negotiation touches every part of our lives. Relationships in business and in our personal lives are negotiated. And the skills to do it effectively can often mean the difference between getting what you want or losing out. You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate!

In the third section of the book, How to be a Great Negotiator, written by property economist, investor and developer Neville Berkowitz, we discuss and analyse the many different nonverbal, “body language” signals others give us during a negotiation, as well as how our bodies are communicating with the other party.

(Courtesy of PersonalEmpowerment.co)

Upper body

Head movements

The movements of the head are mainly controlled by the neck muscles. The lowering of the head while gazing down generally indicates submission or remorse. Dropping the head also protects the neck and larynx from possible damage.

Lowering the head while looking up at another person can be a form of flirting or a gesture of caution by someone who doesn’t trust a person and thus is not willing to take his or her eyes off that person.

The head lowered in a short, nodding motion is a friendly or neutral sign of acknowledgment or acceptance.

Slumping of the head may show exhaustion, frustration, or signal resignation that one is not getting through to the other person.

A slight raising of the head and, possibly, the eyebrows to focus on someone or something shows interest.

An upward jerk of the head can show alertness, querying something unexpected.

Tilting the head back so that the eyes are looking toward the ceiling may indicate boredom, or the person may simply be pondering what has been said.

The head cocked or tilted, with one ear raised higher than the other, indicates an intense inner focus, or an attempt to focus on a particular sound.

Tilting the head to one side is usually a quizzical gesture or indicates trying to see from a new perspective.

We’ve all seen the classic image of curious cats or dogs quizzically tilting their heads to observe whatever has caught their interest. Tilting the head also indicates the willingness to look at things differently, from another angle.

A tilted head with an alert gaze, supported by an open palm of the hand and fingers, indicates prolonged interest; or it may, with a listless gaze, indicate boredom and tiredness.

The up-and-down nodding of the head indicates willingness, acceptance, understanding, approval, or agreement. A slow, small, or tentative nod is a cautious signal showing uncertainty but willingness to continue listening. Nodding accompanied by a smile indicates the above sentiments with good will or good humour included. The intensity, pace, or depth of a nod indicates the degree of these sentiments.

A single nod to another person, often with eyebrows raised, indicates that the other person may now speak.

Shaking the head from side to side indicates non-acceptance, disapproval, or disbelief. As with nodding, the intensity of the shaking motion indicates the intensity of the sentiment.

People trying to convince you to reject something, from personal motives or because they believe it’s in your best interests, may shake their heads to influence your decision.

Tentatively shaking the head at a tilted angle shows uncertainty in the negotiation and indicates the need to hear more before deciding on the matter.

If someone is speaking in the affirmative while shaking his or her head in the negative, trust the nonverbal cue, as he or she probably doesn’t believe what he or she is saying.

The head held erect in a fixed position is a posture of regal strength or authority, disdaining the need to show agreement through nodding or disagreement by shaking the head, thus stating that the party is unable to be dissuaded or influenced in any way. This posture says, “I’m in charge and I’ll make the decisions.” This posture becomes even more authoritative when accompanied by a fixed, unblinking stare.


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