Trying not to pay attention.
It’s not a stretch to say that reading attentive and evaluative body language is a useful skill for everyone at one time or another. For teachers, attentive and evaluative body language cues are useful to read student interest and their level of active thought, for sellers it provides a gauge to the efficacy of a pitch, and to acquaintances at a social even, the level of engagement.
A presenter at a conference might want to measure his story telling skills and so might look for cues to “undivided attention”. He might therefore be interested in shortening presentation points that create fidgeting and shuffling. The salesman, on the other hand, also wants to avoid boredom, but needs to watch for evaluative gestures such as chin stroking, flared nostrils, pinching the bridge of the nose and rubbing the back of the neck to see how close he is to closing the sale and what level of decision making is at hand in his target. Does a chin stroking mean he’s already made up his mind and is mulling things over, or is he just satisfying and itch?
Naturally, as the stakes rise, so too does the importance in reading evaluative and attentive body language accurately, so it is important to keep these cues at hand. In this chapter, “attentive” refers to the level of interest expressed during an interaction whereas “evaluative” delineates indicators that a decision is in the process of being made. This chapter, while brief, covers a significant subset of the body language that happens as people are in thought, give undivided attention or lack thereof and show that they are preparing to reach a decision. We also hit on the hidden meaning of glasses, hand steepling, neck rubbing and a subset of additional evaluative gestures we might encounter in our daily lives.
The amygdala is in here somewhere!
Researchers have defied seven major classes of aggression: predatory, inter-male, fear, irritable, maternal, instrumental (to obtain a goal) and territorial. The amygdala and the hypothalamus, two brain centers, have been centered out as important motivators in aggressive situations. Thankfully, with the potential for such conflict we are given tools in the form of body language that help us gauge aggression in others in order to prevent us from serious injury or death. Since modern humans are primarily vocal, we often ignore some of the cues signifying aggression, but these become very potent as conflict escalates and our verbal language deteriorates to uncontrolled screaming and cussing.
Head tilt shows interest.
The head tilted at forty-five degrees from the center line of the body indicates interest and intrigue. It says “I am receptive, comfortable, and friendly.” The head tilt is one of the very significant and prominent postures that everyone should be aware of, especially educators of any kind. A professor for example, can gauge his efficacy as an instructor by the degree to which his audience tilts their head. Head tilting is also very difficult to fake because our minds will resist the posture when we dislike what we are hearing or the people around us, making it a very honest and reliable gesture.
Head on, means passive listening for example, head slightly tilted shows moderate interest and head at its maximum forty-five degrees shows full immersion. A teacher might see variations across his audience, and also across the subject matter. Head tilting is not an all or nothing phenomenon. This makes it easy to measure the success of a presentation nonverbally and tweak it as necessary.
Dogs also tilt their head, usually by engaging them in human conversations, so the root of this mechanism could simply be the state of being confusion. The head tilt is also a submissive gesture as it exposes the neck making it vulnerable to attack. One of the more prominent courtship displays is the exposed neck, and when done by women, is particularly alluring. This is examined in a later chapter.