When it comes to poker, the neck is something you don’t want to ignore, especially when it comes to pacifying behaviors. Those are behaviors that say, “I have issues; I’m worried; I may be marginal or weak.”
Touching or stroking the neck is one of the most significant and frequent pacifying behaviors we use to soothe stress. Some people rub or massage the back of their neck with their fingers; others stroke the sides of their neck or just under the chin above the Adam’s apple, tugging at the fleshy area of the neck. This area is rich with nerve endings that, when stroked with enough pressure, reduce blood pressure, lower the heart rate and calm the individual.
Typically, men are more robust in their pacifying behaviors and will massage their necks to the point they turn red when under stress. At other times, men will stroke the sides or the back of the neck or adjust their tie knot or collar to soothe stress.
Women pacify differently. When women pacify themselves using the neck, they’ll sometimes touch, twist or manipulate a necklace if they’re wearing one. The other major way women neck-pacify is by covering their suprasternal notch (neck dimple) with their hand or lightly on the side of the neck. Women with greater frequency touch their hand to this part of their neck and/or cover it when they feel stressed, insecure, threatened, uncomfortable or anxious.
I’ve witnessed at the poker tables pregnant women who initially moved their hand toward their neck but at the last moment diverted the hand to their belly, as if to cover the fetus.
We not only touch our necks or massage our necks when there is an issue or when we’re worried, we also do other interesting behaviors that communicate our discomfort or insecurity. Men will ventilate their shirts at the neck or sometimes by pulling at the ends of their collar. Women ventilate by stroking the back of the neck upward lifting their hair. In both cases, it means the same thing. Obviously you may see these behaviors on a hot day, but when someone is dealing with something stressful, you may see this behavior as a reaction.
You also may see the neck disappear as someone lacks confidence or they’re troubled by something. I used to see it in interviews where the shoulders would rise toward the ears causing the neck to seemingly “disappear.” This is a good indicator of distress, anxiety, lack of confidence or concern.
Neck behaviors are extremely accurate and communicate effectively across all cultures because they’re derived through the limbic system; responding elegantly to the world in real time and letting others know there are issues here.
— Joe Navarro is a former FBI Special Agent and is the author of What Every BODY is Saying and 200 Poker Tells. He writes about poker tells exclusively for Ante Up Magazine.