Monday, July 2, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 1923:
Hillary Clinton's Body Language re: Syrian Government -
The Self-Righteous Head Wiggle

In the above video, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton summarizes a portion of the latest international effort to bring peace to Syria. At several times she displays a highly characteristic body language movement known as the Self-Righteous Head Wiggle (given the barbarism put forth by the Syrian government and its military, this self-righteous emotional tone accompanying nonverbal signaling is very understandable and indeed would be displayed by most anyone in Ms. Clinton's shoes, regardless of political party, with very few exceptions).

The self-righteous head wiggle (SRHW) is extremely reliable indicator of a highly confident, self-assured attitude and even smugness. In this video, Ms. Clinton displays the SRHW during 0:24 - 0:25, 0:56, 1:03 (subtle), 1:17 - 1:18, 1:23 - 1:24, and 1:36. Like the vast majority of body language, the SRHW is initiated and performed subconsciously. It is characterized by a relatively rapid but brief side-to-side (lateral) wiggle of the head - nearly always coupled by a backward motion (pull-back) of the head/neck (more commonly) and occasionally by a forward bending of the head/neck (somewhat less often). Sometimes the movement involves the upper chest and shoulders. The forward bending variety is more common when there is a much-smaller audience (e.g. one-on-one), when there is a clear superior-subordinate relationship (parent to child, or boss to employee, etc.) and/or coupled with an increased anger component (during an obvious and open reprimand). Occasionally there is very little or no side-to-side motion and only a pull-back or forward vectoring of the head/neck (noted here during 1:09 - 1:10).

Along with anger, the emotions of disgust and contempt tend to co-exist with the SRHW. It is also extremely common to be clustered with increased vocal pitch, volume and speed.

The self-righteous head wiggle is seen more commonly in a hierarchical setting and more often among the traditionally educated and powerful.

In a negotiation, sales, the courtroom, de-escalation, etc. - and other scenarios where rapport is/should be a goal - being aware of this nonverbal, and eliminating it from your body language vocabulary is highly recommended. Most of the time people are completely unaware their nonverbal displays, fortunately however there are techniques to bring the SRHW and other body language to conscious awareness.