Hi and welcome to the part where we’re gonna talk about the positions of the head in body language.
What can I find here and how is it different from the head gestures series?
First, as always, we will start with some introduction and guidelines to get the main “gist” of how this works.
Next, we will look at each position and analyze it more profoundly – where and in which context it is most likely to appear.
And… If you’ve already read the head gestures series, think about this part as a follow-up that focuses on the more static nature of the head in body language.
This time it’s about posture and direction rather than actions and gestures.
Head Position Indicates Mental State
The position of the head is one of the quickest giveaways to mood or attitude in body language.
Because there’s a direct correlation between how we feel and how we hold our head.
The way we see the world around us is affected by the angle we look at it, right?
That’s why happy or confident people will keep their head high in contrast to depressed individuals who will succumb and won’t put effort in holding it.
This information can help us discern, in one glance, many types of attitudes:
- The general morale – happy vs sad, assured vs shaky.
- Who or what is the center of attention of the person you observe?
- How involved and engaged someone feels in a given scenario?
- Who’s the superior and who’s the subordinate in the social power struggle?
Of course, these are not accurate predictions, I will never claim that someone is happy based upon a single fact that he holds his head high.
But the head in body language is a very good barometer of mental state in a glance.
Meaning – if you had only a moment to identify mood, the head position is one of the things you want to look at.
How to Read Mental State in a Glance
Here is how read their feelings in split second.
- Our neck is a vulnerable and important part of our body; it holds our head and supplies it with vital bloodstream through the carotid arteries. That’s the reason why we instinctively guard our neck when we feel vulnerable (physically or emotionally), or show it with pride when we feel secure or when trying to impress.
- In general, the higher the position of the head the higher the emotional condition of the person – I.e. Feeling better and stronger.
- Orienting the head is similar to pointing with the finger, where you’re headed, literally, is generally where you want to be.
- We tend to keep the head in balance, it’s just easier that way – so tilting it is appears to signify special interest.
With these notes in mind we already understand the basic principles of head positions in body language. Now it’s time to polish it out with some examples.
I’ll start by examining the elevated head postures and we’ll gradually descend to the lower ones, on the way I’ll do my best to give concrete and solid pointers you can use when interpreting the body language of others.
Keeping your Head High
Keeping the head high and looking upwards is usually associated with “feel-good” and positive introspective.
Examples – Relaxation, daydreaming, stargazing, ecstasy…In such scenarios, the person is found in his own inner world, he’s not really open for communication, he’s just enjoying himself\herself. It’s common when enjoying a favorite music or a good massage.
Another common explanation is that it can be a contemplative state, thinking about new ideas or reflecting upon positive events.
So it’s definitely a high spirits and carefree posture, but when it comes to communication and bonding with others it’s only good when the rest of the group are in the same mood. Otherwise the day-dreamer removes himself from the interaction and appears uncaring or even slow.
Looking Down One’s Nose
The head is tilted back, the chin moves forward. This gesture often associated with aristocracy and arrogant characters.
You know the look… a snobbish, cocky head position that almost yells: “I am better than you”
It’s an annoying and dismissive signal that’s often combined with a doubtful look on the face (raising one brow) and rolling of the eyes.
It can actually be enhanced further by clasping the hands behind the neck\head and spreading them to the sides to create a “know-it-all” impression.
Exposing the Neck
Like in many other expressions, when it comes to courtship the meaning can be reversed and become a playful teasing gesture rather than elitist or snobbish. E.g. A girl who’s playing hard to get to taunt her date and test his determination.
Also, raising the head exposes the neck – one of the female’s attractive features. A long smooth neck with a dimple is a display meant to entice men’s attention and display vulnerability. Touching the neck, especially in the dimple area reveals tension – which can be good or bad, depending on the context.
Holding the head high can also be a way of covering up insecurity, or hiding hurt feelings.
It’s like saying nonverbally – “You didn’t hurt me at all, I’ll keep my composure”.
If you said something offending and the other person raises his head and turns away you can bet you hurt him more than he’ll like to show, so watch out!
This is the most unbiased and ‘basic’ position of our head – a perfect candidate for a passport phot.
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.
Head Tilt Down
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 positionThe 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).
ContemplationJust 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.
Looking At the Floor
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.