I refer often to a particular group of people that have influenced me more than any other. I have a close group of friends that I went to school with and we played football together and keep as best friends despite all leading very different lives today. At school we called ourselves the A-Team and we tend to still refer to ourselves as that when we have get-togethers.
I spoke to one of them just this week gone and we were laughing like crazy at something that we used to do as kids at school. It was not an exclusive A-Team trait, all the kids did it. What was this thing? Whenever we did not believe anything that someone had said to us, we would stroke our chin and say «Oooh yeaah… Jimmy Hill»
This sounds crazy doesn’t it? The man that used to introduce Match of the day on Saturday nights with the football highlights of the day was called Jimmy Hill. An ex-England and Fulham football player and had become the country’s most famous pundit. Unmistakably characterised by his pointed, wispy beard that he had on his chin. We would rub our chins and mimic Jimmy Hill to demonstrate that we did not believe something that they had told us.
Especially as one of our friends used to tell us his Dad played for Manchester United, was also a formula one racing driver and his older brother had won the worlds strongest man competition! «Oh yeah… Jimmy Hill….»
The Jimmy Hill gesture was not far off the mark as far as hand to face gestures go to indicate deceit or that you suspect deceit. Hand to face gestures tell us so much.
When I mention certain hand-to-cheek gestures and hand-to-chin gestures, these can also be noticed and assessed to gauge the temperature of the person’s attitude to you and your presentation or communication. It can often tell you how well you are doing with that communication.
Boredom can be noticed with body language quite obviously. If the person is snoring loudly and yawning, then they either had a late night or you may not be stimulating their brain as much as would be beneficial or desirable.
When any listener begins to use their hands to support their head, it is a signal that boredom may well have set in and they are holding their head up to stop them falling asleep. Often, the degree of the listener’s boredom is related to the extent to which the arm and hand are supporting the head.
It usually begins with the chin being supported by the thumb and then by the fist as interest dissipates further. If the head is fully supported by the hands, this is usually the ultimate boredom signal.
Many people think that if a person is tapping continually with their fingers or the feet upon the floor, that these are boredom signals too. They are actually more likely to be displaying impatience. If you are speaking to an individual or a group and their are boredom gestures accompanied by a continual impatient tapping, then it may be time to change tack or leave!
Evaluation is shown by a closed hand resting on the chin or cheek, often with the index finger pointing upwards. When the person begins to lose interest but still wants to appear interested for courtesy’s sake, the position will alter so that the heel of the palm supports the head as boredom sets in.
When I have worked with company’s department heads or section leaders often use this gesture to make out that they are interested in what a director is saying, even if they are being boring or dull. Unfortunately though, as soon as the hand begins to support the head in any way, it gives the game away and the director is likely to sense the insincerity in this gesture.
Genuine interest is shown when the hand lightly rests on the cheek and is not used as a head support. When the index finger points vertically up the cheek and the thumb supports the chin, the listener is having negative or critical thoughts about the speaker or the subject they are communicating.
This gesture is often mistaken as a signal of interest, but the supporting thumb under the chin often tells the truth about the critical attitude.
Maybe you have seen Rodin’s «The Thinker» that showed a thoughtful, evaluative attitude. If not, you can Google pictures online.
On any future occasion when you have the opportunity to present an idea to a group of people, watch them carefully as you give your idea and you may notice that most will bring one hand up to their face and use an evaluation gesture. When you come to the end of your presentation and ask the group to give opinions, feedback or suggestions about your ideas, the evaluation gestures usually stop and a chin stroking gesture begins. This chin stroke is the signal that the listener is going through the decision making process.
When you’ve asked the listeners for their decision and they start chin stroking, their next gestures will signal whether their decision is negative or positive. Your best strategy is to stay quiet and watch their next gestures, which will indicate the decision reached. For example, if the chin stroke is followed by crossed arms and legs and the person sits back in their chair, it’s a fair bet the answer is going to be «no.» This gives an early opportunity to resell the benefits before the other person verbalises «no» and makes it harder to reach an agreement.
If the chin stroke is followed by leaning forward with arms open or picking up your proposal or sample, chances are you have a «yes» and can proceed as if you have an agreement.
Someone who wears glasses sometimes follows an evaluation gesture by taking off their glasses and putting one arm of the frame in their mouth instead of using the chin stroke when making their decision. Sometimes, when a person puts their pen or a finger in their mouth after you’ve asked for a decision, it is a signal that they are unsure and reassurance is needed. The object in the mouth allows that person to stall and not feel any urgency in giving an immediate response.
Sometimes boredom, evaluation and decision-making gestures come in combinations, each showing different elements of the person’s attitude.
Head slapping Like Homer Simpson: Doh!
When you say that a person is a «pain in the neck», you are referring to the ancient reaction of the tiny erector pillae muscles on the neck – often called goosebumps – attempting to make your non-existent fur pelt stand on end to make yourself appear more intimidating because you are feeling threatened or angry.
It is the same hair-raising reaction an angry dog has when confronted by another potentially hostile dog. This reaction causes the tingling feeling you experience on the back of your neck when you feel frustrated or fearful. You’ll usually rub your hand over the area to satisfy the sensation.
Let us assume, for example, that you asked someone to do a small favour for you and that they had forgotten to do it. When you ask them for the result, they slap either their forehead (like Homer does) or back of the neck, as if they were symbolically beating themselves.
Although slapping of the head is used to communicate forgetfulness, it’s important to watch whether they slap the forehead or neck. If they slap their forehead, they signal that they are not intimidated by you mentioning their forgetfulness. When they slap the back of their neck to satisfy the raised erector pillae muscles, however, it tells you that you are literally a «pain in the neck» for mentioning it. If the person slaps their own backside, then…… 😉
Acquiring the ability to interpret hand to face gestures accurately as discussed last week and this week, does take time and observation. Of course, there are no real hard and fast rules and each must be taken in context to get a good feel for.
When a person uses any of the hand to face gestures I mentioned last week and this, it is reasonable to assume a negative thought has entered the mind. The question is however, what is the negative thought? It could be doubt, deceit, uncertainty, exaggeration, apprehension or blatant lying. The real skill is the ability to interpret which negative is the correct one.
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