Years ago, when we were holidaying in France, I asked a local if he knew where the local post office was located. He said Oui but vigorously shook his head. When training on body language, I sometimes tell this story of mixed signals. It always gives me a headache! It’s actually very difficult to say yes and shake your head simultaneously. It goes against one of the most fundamental and universal body language gestures, the head nod.
Body language is older and more innate than verbal language and even facial gestures. And in most cultures, the head nod is used to signify ‘Yes’ or agreement. It’s a stunted form of bowing and research shows that people who are born deaf, dumb and blind also use this gesture to signify ‘Yes’, so it appears to be an inborn gesture of submission or agreement with another person’s point of view.
In the service business, head nodding is a very persuasive tool. In dealing with complaints, it encourages the customer to feel that they are being taken seriously. It also encourages people to talk three to four times more than usual when the listener nods their head at regular intervals so it is very powerful in sales negotiations when the salesperson is at his or her most powerful when listening rather than speaking (that lessons seems to take a while to drum through!).
But you can also overdo nodding. When Mary Robinson was running for the Presidential Election in the early 1990s she earned the nickname Noddy for President!