We continue with the second part on head positions in body language. After we finished with the upper postures, it's getting down to:
This is the most unbiased and ‘basic’ position of our head - a perfect candidate for a passport snapshot.
When you hold your head this way you establish an equal baseline with whomever you speak, you don’t feel superior or submissive towards them. So most interaction between equals are made more or less from this point.
The neutral head position is often a projection of confidence but without the snobbish-negative connotations, you meet people in their eye-level - you don't submit or try to dominate them.
Since most of us are not robotic by nature, we never stay too long in one head position - we shake, nod and tilt our head almost all the time. Moreover, when we lack such motions we signal that we either don’t understand or don't care enough to interact.After all - lack of feedback is also a sort of feedback. As a matter of fact, you can use this knowledge to subdue others:
The Power Gaze
This technique involves a motionless head with an icy power-gaze. The direct and uncompromising stare with a fixed, motionless head instantly creates a tingling sense of discomfort for whomever is being scrutinized this way.
Like a hunter “locks-in” on his prey, it feels less as a conversation between peers and more as an intense interrogation. It's like doing a staring contest with someone who seems to not like you, it's hard not to budge and look away.
The power gaze is very useful when you want to stop someone from talking. As the talker will start to recognize your lack of involvement, or even hostile attitude, he will try to cajole you (subconsciously) to agree with him by moving his own head (because we tend to mimic others when we're in rapport with them) or he'll try probing you with questions to get a clue regarding how you feel. After all, it’s very frustrating to try and connect with someone who just keeps a still head and a poker-face.
On the downside, this is one of the worst things you can do if rapport and empathy are your goals. Also, be careful with whom you use it, starting a staring contest with dangerous types or your superior can often lead to unfortunate results.
Another twist to this power play is to lead the head with your eyes: It means moving your eyes sideways first and then following with your head to focus your gaze. Just like Arnold Schwarzenegger liked to do in "The Terminator" movies.
The head down position has many interpretation, most of them revolve around negative feelings and\or low self esteem.
Let's examine each individually to get a better understanding:
A defensive position
The forehead will slant forward a bit; the eyes narrow and give a wary gaze.
When the head is tilted down it protects the neck and prepares the body for a frontal impact, like a bull inclining his horns readying himself for the charge.
It's a bad idea to start negotiations with someone who keeps his body on the defensive - you'll need some sort of ice-breaker to open their body (and consequently their mind).
Just like looking upwards sends us into a contemplative state, looking down has the same introspective effect, but usually with a more negative connotations.
Problem solving, worries and general sadness are often associated with the head tilted down.
Tilting the head down can be a sign of respect and submission. As if the listener is not worthy or afraid of meeting his superior gaze. It’s more common in Eastern or South American cultures - where it might be rude to have a direct eye contact, so people might lower their head and look at the neck area instead.
Furthermore, there's often a correlation between status and how low one should bow when greeting someone from different social status. (The higher the status the lower the bow)
Women will often tilt their head down to create a recessive image, accompanied with big "puppy" eyes and pursed lips - it creates a submissive, vulnerable and helpless display that's hard to resist. It's entices strong paternal\maternal protective feelings to help that "poor girl", feelings that are often exploited.
The image that comes to mind is that of a reprimanded child listening to his parents scold him.
In this posture you disable your side of the conversation: you avoid eye contact and hide your face in the floor. Naturally that happens when we face an undesired encounter.
Tilting the head this way appears more often in children than in grown men, but is also evident in shy and submissive characters.
Another example: people who wish to avoid the pleas of beggars at the street tend to incline their head as they go and look away, as if they don't see the beggar. It’s much harder to avoid the beggar if you make eye contact and recognize him as a person, because then you feel obliged to interact and help him.
Does this gesture indicate deceit?
It can, because when we say something embarrassing or not entirely true, the tension of the lie can force us to look down or away.
It’s not very common because most of us understand that this is a quick giveaway, but it happen nonetheless, especially in children.
Other pacifying behaviors like rubbing the neck or the eyes can reinforce such suspicions.
In these 2 posts I wanted to deepen your understanding regarding the different ways we position our heads and how they can reflect something from our inner world or social standing.
Admittedly, I made somewhat arbitrary examples regarding the different head positions - we rarely stay in one position for too long, but at least now you have some reference points you can rely on. These “anchors” hint at what’s going on inside the head of whom you observe. It’s a tool, adapt it to your needs and observations.
If you haven’t read the head gestures, I recommend checking it out. The main difference between the 2 series is that the head gestures is focused more on brief, active signals, than the “static” head positions that I talked about here.