We have all shrugged our shoulders at times, and experienced others shrugging their shoulders in response our questions. But what does it mean, and why should you avoid doing it?
Here are several meanings of the shoulder shrug and why you should avoid it:
A shoulder shrug can indicate, “I don’t know.” If you are talking to another person in a language they don’t understand, you may shrug their shoulders as a way to respond.” However, there are some Eastern cultures in which a shoulder shrug is considered rude.
When you shrug your shoulders to someone in conversation, your “I don’t know” is not a very confident answer. A much more confident answer would be to just say, “I don’t know”, or “I do not know—let me find out.”
A shoulder shrug can indicate when you don’t have an opinion, or you are indifferent about what the other person is asking or saying. When you say something such as, “It doesn’t matter to me” along with a shoulder shrug, however, it can be received as a flippant answer, implying that you don’t care. Instead, simply state that you are indifferent without the shrug.
Sometimes the shoulder shrug is the only answer to the other person’s questions. Meaning, you do not verbally answer with “I don’t know” or “I don’t care” or “it doesn’t matter”. This can be received as a sign of disrespect, as you are not verbally answering the other person.
A certain type of shoulder shrug may reveal the person is not telling the truth.
Dr. Paul Eckman writes about the one shoulder shrug, which may be an indication of a person being untruthful. He writes, “It typically directly contradicts the confidence, certainty or affirmation that occurs in the speaker’s words or behavior. It has proven to be the most valuable signal that a person is lying, but it does not always occur during deception. As with other signs of lying we have discovered, its absence means nothing, though its presence is revealing.” https://www.paulekman.com/blog/emblematic-slips/
In most cases, the shoulder shrug may be viewed as passive, flippant, or even disrespectful. Therefore, you should avoid it when possible, and let your answer speak for itself.