Nodding Doesn't Mean "Yes"

For women, nodding while listening conveys understanding and consideration.

Posted Jan 23, 2012

Len is intent on his sales pitch. "This car will suit all your driving needs," he tells Chris, the young mother of two as she stands on the showroom floor, her baby perched on her hip.

She listens to him intently, nodding through his spiel.

This encourages Len to believe he's making headway. "Wow!" He thinks, "She's hooked!  I've got this sale in the bag!"

When he's done, Chris responds, "Thanks for telling me about your new SUV, but I'm not interested. I don't think it will work for my family.  I need something smaller and more fuel efficient."

Len is stunned and stymied! Didn't she want the car?

Was Chris intentionally trying to mislead Len into believing he'd made a sale?  No, not at all. Nodding is an excellent example of the same behavior meaning different things to each gender. For women, nodding while listening conveys understanding and consideration. Chris was nodding as a feminine courtesy. To her, the nod didn't mean she was buying Len's product, only that she was paying attention and that she understood him. But confusion arises because for men nodding signifies not just understanding but also agreeing.  If a woman nods, a man thinks, "Oh good, she's buying everything I'm saying."  But at the end of the conversation, she may say, "No, I don't think that's a good idea."

To avoid this muddle, a woman must recognize how men interpret her nods. She can then put her true intentions on record. She might say, for instance, "I understand what you're saying, but I have a different opinion."  There is no need for women to stop nodding, since there are too many positive interpersonal values connected to it. And a man must take a woman's nod for what it is in her world-a sign of understanding.  Nodding is an empathic gesture that makes others comfortable and encourages openness. All that's called for is a bit of clarification.