Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 1553:
Ann & Mitt Romney's Body Language at NRA Meeting

During her recent speech and introduction of her husband - the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, at the NRA's Annual Meeting, Ann Romney displays some great body language "dos and don'ts". Mitt Romney showed us a few classic nonverbal tells as well. 

Throughout much of the video, Mrs. Romney grabs the sides of the lectern/podium, moreover she biases her hold towards the audience. This is an alpha display of dominance. John Kennedy popularized this in  the context of presidential speeches and Bill Clinton followed his lead. Interestingly, Kennedy arrived at this nonverbal dominance display by accident, as his forward lean on the lectern took pressure off his back and nagging pain from a severe injury suffered in the Second World War. 

The more we can see of a candidate, a witness, salesperson, negotiator, etc. - the more we trust them. The less we see, the less we trust - it makes us emotionally uncomfortable. An extreme example is someone wearing a mask. Can you trust a person in a mask? Even if we know who is behind it, we'd rather have it removed. The hands are also particularly important in this credibility display. In addition to being dominant with their forward-gripping, wide-spread body language - the hand-arm visibility factor lends believability to a speaker - even with an audience of one. When watching this video, note how you feel at the 1:45 time-mark, when Ann pulls down her hands so that they're no longer visible. She "feels" less credible, she transmits less rapport and she seems less self-confident. When she again shows us her hands, she re-establishes the positive emotional connections with all who are watching. This is very real psychological phenomenon and is cross-culturally valid (indeed in some countries, where women are oppressed, the hands-forward lectern nonverbal would considered be much too alpha). Accordingly, it is a trend, especially among political speakers, to have lecterns made out of Lucite, plexiglass or some similar transparent material. A less expensive compromise is one constructed with a thin metal or wooden central, vertical beam - so as to afford a near complete view of the speaker. 

Mrs. Romney commits a major faux pas on two occasions in this video.  At the 1:26 - 1:29 and again at the 2:09 - 2:15 time-marks, she gestures with an "Index Finger Point" (and more subtly with her hand on the lectern at the beginning of this clip). This nonverbal is universally and negatively received in all cultures and may even destroy rapport in the minds and hearts of supporters. In many countries it's a vulgarity, an insult, patronizing and in some scenarios may even provoke violence. Ann Romney would be better advised to use the palm-up, loose-finger, elbow bent gesture as a means of "pointing". This nonverbal is rapport-building and engenders more of a bridge-building, leadership mindset. Another way of pointing is the "Politician's Point" - wherein the thumb and first finger come together in a circle in a manner similar to the "okay sign" (in some countries though, this is considered an obscenity - so it's not universally recommended). Ann does this with her right hand still on the lectern at the 0:42 - 0:51 and  time-marks. The index finger point is a lot like a body builder wearing a muscle shirt at the grocery store - it may feel good at the time to the person who is "displaying" - but it won't win you any friends.

Two exceptions to the index finger point rule are when pointing at one's self or upwards (which Mrs. Romney also displays at the 0:51 and the 1:23 marks) - though both should be displayed in moderation.

Mitt Romney, the onlooker, is standing with his feet too close together. This is considerably too beta. No president or candidate should stand in this way in the vast majority of scenarios - especially in front of an audience. While funerals, ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, receiving the remains of soldiers, weddings, inaugurations, meetings with high level religious figures such as the Pope or the Dalai Lama are some exceptions - a President, a candidate who's seeking the office, or anyone who wants to display alpha characteristics - should stand with their feet about shoulder width apart for men, and slightly less separated for women. Men, even very testosterone-laden men, will also stand in this manner in some settings, when they're next to their wife or girl friend as an affection-bonding nonverbal - and this is probably what Mitt is feeling here. But it simply doesn't look very Presidential. In the great majority of times, standing with feet close together transmits the emotional tone of - "I am beta", demureness and while accentuating femininity.

Notice also, as the audience claps for Ann - and Mitt in turn also claps for his wife's speech - he then raises up on his toes twice (at 1:36 and 1:37). This is a strong nonverbal signal of excitement and positive emotional energy "leaking out" (he also sticks his tongue slightly out a' la Michael Jordan in what is known as a "Tongue Jut" or "Lizard Tongue", visible at the 1:33 and 1:34 marks). Ann spoke well and got a great applause from the audience. He's excited and he shows us with this subconscious, nonverbal tell. With his feet together however, this body language tends to make him look boyish.