2 Behaviors That Convey Interest

How the feet and neck help us communicate interest.

Posted Dec 21, 2018

fizkes/Shutterstock
Source: fizkes/Shutterstock

I am often asked if there is anything we can do nonverbally to let people know that we are fully engaged and interested in what they have to say. My answer is yes, but my choices are probably things you never thought about. 

Obviously, we know that making good eye contact and smiling are very useful in showing interest — we have known that since Dale Carnegie published How to Win Friends and Influence People in the 1930s. Beyond that, let me suggest these two behaviors: head tilting and/or crossing your legs while standing. Never thought of it? Try it out, or perhaps you already have, and you just didn’t know you were doing it naturally.

Head Tilt

Ever see people gather around a newborn and noticed they tilt their heads to the side? Prince William, and in particular Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, are both famous for canting their heads when speaking to others. Why do they do that? Because it works. It works with babies, it works with adults.

When we tilt our heads, babies seem to smile and relax. Watch couples in love: They will sit across from each other for hours, heads tilted, gazing at each other lovingly. This behavior in essence exposes our necks, and I suspect it makes us look more vulnerable, and thus more agreeable. 

Having studied this behavior over the years, invariably those who tilt their head are perceived as more interested, attentive, caring, and having less of an “agenda.” In other words, people report feeling as though the person is listening to them more attentively, to the exclusion of others. Powerful in courtship — no less so in a business setting.

Not surprisingly, through body echoing or isopraxis, when both individuals tilt their head, there is a greater tendency to remain talking longer. Whether it is a hallway, office, or on the street, individuals tend to loiter or stay longer when they tilt their heads, as reflected in post-observation interviews.

Standing With Legs Crossed

Those of you who have read my posts in the past here in Psychology Today are aware that we usually only cross our legs while standing when we are comfortable around others. Anything perceived as a threat (edge of a tall building) or any kind of social acrimony keeps both feet firmly down so as to not be off balance. The limbic system, responsible for our safety, does this quite effectively without much conscious thought. 

Want to make others comfortable while standing? Try crossing your legs. Subconsciously it says I am interested in what you have to say, however long it takes. If we are lucky, the other person will also feel comfortable with us and do the same. In essence, the legs say: If you are comfortable around me, I am comfortable around you. As with the head tilt, leg crossing while standing, when reciprocated, almost always garners greater face-time together. And in business and relationships, face-time is where it is at.

Obviously if someone is in a hurry, and they have an appointment, no amount of body language displays on our part will guarantee they will stay around and listen to us. But if you have the opportunity, and they are not in a hurry to leave, try these techniques and see if you don’t find that they stick around longer for a more enjoyable conversation.

References

Navarro, Joe.2014.Dangerous Personalities. New York: Rodale.

Navarro, Joe.2012.Detecting Deception. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, (August): 7-11.

Navarro, Joe.2018. The Dictionary of Body Language: A Field Guide to Human Behavior. New York : Harper Collins.

Navarro, Joe.2010. Louder than words: take your career from average to exceptional with the hidden power of nonverbal intelligence. New York : Harper Collins.

Navarro, Joe.2017. Three Minutes to Doomsday: an FBI   Agent, a Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breach in U.S History. New York: Scribner. http://amzn.to/2cxyMAU

Navarro, Joe.2009. The Psychology of Body Language. Amazon Kindle.

Navarro, Joe.2008. What Every Body Is Saying. New York: Harper Collins.

Navarro, Joe.2005. “Your stage presence: nonverbal communication.” In Successful Trial Strategies for Prosecutors. Candace M. Mosley ed., Columbia, South Carolina: National College of District Attorneys: 13-19.