You quite often see people being interviewed on television who can’t stop nodding.
No, they’re not suffering from narcolepsy. Nor can it be attributed to the fact that the interviewer’s question might be so long and rambling that the interviewee starts dozing off. Instead, it’s down to an instinctive yearning on the part of the person being interviewed to strike up some strange kind of relationship with their interviewer.
Don’t do it. Here’s why not.
Nodding while being interviewed is dangerous. It can suggest to the viewer that the interviewee is in agreement with the question being put to them. This can backfire on the interviewee if the question is hostile, negative or inflammatory.
Moreover, some interviewees start nodding while listening to the first part of a question and then carry on nodding, as if on autopilot, even while the second part of the question turns nasty.
INTERVIEWER: “Professor, you are one of the world’s leading experts on volcanoes (professor now nodding away enthusiastically – he/she couldn’t agree more) and yet you got it seismically wrong (still nodding) in failing to predict yesterday’s eruption of Krakatoa (only now does the prof wind down the nodding as the penny drops – too late).”
From where does this obsessive desire to interact with an interviewer derive?
In many cases, it’s down to the fact that people in senior positions are these days told to ’empathise’ whenever they have any human contact. So, an HR officer interviewing an employee about child care problems has to nod away like fury in order to demonstrate their understanding of the employee’s predicament. Unfortunately, they can’t shake off the habit when they sit down in front of a TV news camera.
There are variations on the nodding problem. Some interviewees can’t resist interjecting with words like “right”, “OK” or “indeed” while a question is being put to them, again adding legitimacy to a question that could turn out to be dynamite.
On other occasions, the interviewee can be nodding away, or delivering a string of “rights” and “OKs”, because they can’t wait to get in with their answer. This makes them look like a nervous wreck.
So, the message to all interviewees is this: being interviewed is not an empathy-fest. Unless it’s a genuinely softly-softly interview on a topic devoid of all controversy or dispute, it’s best to sit tight – forgoing any visual or verbal reaction to the question – until you’ve heard it out in full. Then reply.