I’ve seen many articles about how we greet people nonverbally while walking by them on a sidewalk or in a hallway. All the articles are based on men greeting men in situations where there is no intention to do what Larry David refers to as the “stop and chat.” Consistently, the observations suggest that we give a quick head nod down if we don’t know the person and we nod up when we know the person.
WHY WOULD WE NOD DOWN TO A STRANGER AND NOD UP TO SOMEONE WE KNOW?
So far, I have not found a scientific research study on this topic, but I did find published studies on nodding in meeting situations that would support the observations. The nod down is a simple acknowledgement, which in this context says, “I see you.” It is also a nonverbal signal that keeps the peace by saying, “I am not a threat.” The nod up is what my mentor Joe Navarro refers to as a “gravity-defying” nonverbal. When our gestures lift, it is almost always a sign of good feelings. In the Mens Health magazine article, they refer to a man’s upward nod as the “Silent ‘Sup” that nonverbally communicates a friendly, “What’s up, Dude?” I bet the eyebrows also lift when giving the “Silent ‘Sup” because that nonverbal has been identified in studies as a universal nonverbal friendly greeting.
OBSERVE YOUR OWN GREETING NONVERBALS TODAY.
I’ve been intentionally paying attention to my greeting nonverbals recently, and the nodding behavior holds true for me. I’d be interested in what you observe in your own experience. To get a sense, just imagine seeing someone you know walking by. Do you nod up or down?