President Obama visited with Pope Francis today. It was the first time the leaders met.
The two men share some historic firsts. Francis is the first Latin-American Pope and also the first one from either the Western or Southern Hemispheres.
The following is a partial body language analysis from the Pope's and President's meeting.
Note how President Obama bows slightly. In some settings, bowing to a shorter man calls attention to his short stature and often is interpreted as patronizing. In the presence of a major religious leader however - it is in deference to their superior stature - and is a nonverbal of high respect.
Bowing is very culture specific. Great care should be taken to learn all customs when visiting realms foreign to you - nonverbal and otherwise.
Interestingly Barack's hand is mildly rotated so that it is approximately 20 degrees on top of Francis's hand - a dominance tell. This is subconsciously driven whereas Barack's bowing is conscious - thus displaying his real view of the proper political pecking order.
One of the few places where a head-of-state should allow themselves to configure in the beta body language of a "Fig-Leaf" (aka genital guarding) is when showing respect and deference to a major religious leader.
What are the other exceptions to this guideline?
On his way to sit down at Pope Francis's desk, the President rubs the area above his upper lip and below his nose (the two vertical elevated ridges with the central excavation is the called the "Philtrum"). Barack feels significant anxiety in this moment and is very probably thinking of - or felt he was just told - a lie.
As a sign of respect, Obama lets Francis sit a second before he does.
Normally one would want to have one's hands visible (as it sends signals of trustworthiness and confidence) - yet also out of respect, Mr. Obama refrains from putting his hands or arms on the Pope's desk.
Pope Francis momentarily lets his alpha show while configuring his hands in a low, recumbent, conventional steeple. His instinct and humility however prevents him of maintaining this body language for very long - lest it backfires and transmits signals of hyper-alpha, arrogance and condescension.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2603: Sarah Palin's Body Language - She Feels Disgust toward Pope Francis and ... She Tells a Fib
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2575: The "Bishop of Bling" - German Catholic Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst's Body Language
Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2321: Cardinal Timothy Dolan on "Face the Nation" Problems in Catholic Church & Electing a New Pope Clergy are Not Exempt from Body Language Tells ...
Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2379: Bill Clinton's Speech at the George W. Bush Presidential Library Opening Body Language of Former and Current
Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 1770: White House Correspondents' Dinner Lindsay Lohan's Body Language
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2633: Abigail Hernandez, Missing N.H. 15 year old, Body Language Clues
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2765: Obama, Romney, Russia and Facial Asymmetry - Contempt at The Hague