Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2048:
The Arm Grip, Shoulder Touch and Back Touch
Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande

This image of Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande was taken one week before Hollande assumed office (15 May 2012). Two days earlier, Sarkozy had lost to Hollande in the 2012 French Presidential election. Although in some contexts this can be a sign of affection - in this setting Sarkozy's grip on the President-Elect's arm is a classic body language signal of the alpha-personality in a relative power position. Nicolas is still President and psyche doesn't want to relinquish power. Sarkozy will not repeat this nonverbal once Hollande takes office. 

This arm grip and similar body language gestures to the shoulder or back are patronizing and should be avoided in the business and professional setting. Virtually every president and CEO displays this to their subordinates though. Everyone is hyper-aware of the pecking order and who can fire or reprimand who, and yet far too many "leaders" still feels the need to commit this nonverbal faux pas. The betas know who are the alphas - they don't need reminding. What's really going on here is the alpha is affirming to himself that he is in the power position. It is also seen more commonly when in narcissists, people who are unaware of interpersonal space or those who are over-compensating for other emotions. If the "gripper" is a male and the "grippee" is a female, the arm/shoulder grip & back touch carries a greater level of condescension and is often interpreted by the woman as a sexual advance.

See also:

Analysis # 554: Ron Paul's Palms Down Faux Pas