Sunday, September 2, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2102:
The Self-Righteous Head Wiggle and the
Conventional Steeple vs.Basketball Steeple

This video explores some the controversy regarding a young boy from Grand Island, Nebraska, his parents and administrators at his public school. Three year old Hunter Spanjer is hearing impaired and his parents contend that they were asked to change or modify his name or the spelling of it. The Grand Island Public School System disputes this claim.

In the video above, school marketing and communications coordinator, Jack Sheard is shown in two brief segments. In the first segment (0:12 - 0:20), one of several body language tells Mr. Sheard displays is the "Self-Righteous Head Wiggle" (SRHW). Note how his head rocks then snaps back and forth when he is making his statement. This rapid and short-lived side-to-side movement of the head is an extremely reliable indicator of a highly confident, self-assured attitude and sometimes smugness. Often there is a backward vector (a pulling back motion of the head) component performed simultaneously with the side-ward movement. Occasionally there is a forward motion instead - which tends to be seen when the audience is smaller (particularly one-on-one), an obvious superior-subordinate relationship and/or when accompanied by anger.

Other emotions seen with the SRHW are disgust and contempt. Often vocal pitch, volume and speed will increase as well. Such movements can be translated into the upper torso - and, as is seen here, into the similar movements of the jaw. The Self-Righteous Head Wiggle is often seen in settings where hierarchical mindsets predominate and is more common among those with lots of traditional education.

In the second clip of Mr. Sheard (from 1:11 to 1:20), he can be seen displaying a modified basketball steeple (hands apart) - then a traditional steeple - followed briefly by a modified basketball steeple again. The traditional steeple is a strong alpha signal. It sends messages of authority, confidence and power - but it is almost always over-used. It should be used very briefly - only for a second or two - otherwise it is patronizing and projects arrogance and condescension. Even the four seconds displayed here too long. This is in contrast to the basketball steeple, with hands held slightly apart (as if holding a basketball or here a bit closer together). Mr. Sheard would build more rapport if he leaned forward in his chair and held his hands a bit more apart than he is here. The basketball steeple also projects an alpha emotional tone - but it is not patronizing - rather it projects confidence and self-assuredness WITHOUT arrogance - a combination all too rarely seen.