Friday, January 28, 2011

Negotiation Secret # 49: Leadership and Contempt

Vladimir Putin, Russia's Prime Minister and former President, is displaying a great example of contempt. Although at this particular moment it is subtle, his expression is very consistent with what Vladimir is experiencing emotionally at the moment of this photograph. Any emotional tell can be very fleeting. A microexpression of contempt, or any other emotion, lasts for less than 0.5 seconds and as little as 0.04 seconds. Notice how the right side of Mr. Putin's mouth is upturned. Although sometimes mistaken for a partial smile, this is a classic display of subtle contempt. His mid-face is tightened as well, particular the "mustache area" and the upper lip is mildly raised. There is also subtle nostril flaring.

The Prime Minister's body is also leaning away from the person of contempt. This is a common co-existing sign of contempt that is rarely discussed - it would be extremely rare to see a forward lean with simultaneous contempt.

Vladimir's head is turned away from the person to whom he's looking. We turn away from people we don't like, don't respect or don't trust. Since Mr. Putin holds an advanced belt in Judo and is former Directorate of the KGB- this is not a good sign for whom ever the Prime Minister is looking.

Contempt is a very specific and negative emotional state. It is similar to disgust, but it is only directed at a person or group of people.  When you feel contempt toward another person(s), you are metaphorically placing another person or group beneath you. You believe them to be inferior to you. Contempt is often not expressed openly - particularly if it is subtle - thus it is a fantastic tell in politics, business or personal relationships. Fascinatingly, contempt is also the most reliable sign of relationship failure.