Whole Foods Market has been in damage control mode of late. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs uncovered what it called a "systematic over-charging for pre-packaged foods". Yesterday the up-scale grocery store featured their Co-CEOs, John Mackey and Walter Robb, in this "non-apology apology" video published on YouTube. No doubt their script was carefully crafted by a team of attorneys - yet the words, "Straight-up, ah, we made some mistakes. We want to own that and tell you what we're doing about it" - is not the equivalent (or anything close) to saying, "We're sorry" or "We apologize" - or better yet if they each said, "I apologize" and "I'm sorry" (the word "we" is a distancing word - which spreads the blame and not a good example of leadership in this non-apology apology). They imply, of course, that these were weighing mistakes and the "pricing issues" will be solved by increased and improved employee training. Perhaps this is indeed what occurred. But what do their nonverbal cues tells us? Is their body language congruent with their verbal language?
With the exception of a few countries in the World and in a religious context, putting both hands together in a prayer-like configuration known as a "Pseudo-Prayer" is a highly patronizing. Here John Mackey amplifies this condescending emotional tone by an additional chopping motion. This nonverbal MAP (Manipulator, Adaptor, Pacifier) should be strongly avoided in the business setting throughout the vast majority of the World (and certainly throughout North America) and in all settings where rapport is sought.
Walter Robb displays another body language MAP which, in the right setting - and in small doses, does indeed project confidence and assertiveness - the "Conventional Steeple". However the vast majority of alpha personalities whom use this steeple variant, end up over-using it and consequently it backfires. During a true apology, non-apology apology or an explanation to the public - it should NEVER be used - for then it only serves to project insincerity, arrogance and a condescending emotional tone.
It's important to note though, in this example this lack of eye contact is a product of editing. However it's also a paramount that during this crisis management moment - this decision helped to make the problem worse.
Both men have significant facial asymmetry. John Mackey's forehead appears to be relatively hypo-functional on his left - which results in a compensatory over-action of his right forehead muscles (and thus an elevation of his eyebrow). This gives him the appearance of incredulity. This partial facial palsy is most likely due to a cranial nerve VII palsy on his left (an old injury or virus) or a result of the effects of Botox wearing off unevenly. This medical issue should be addressed for it will perpetually project feelings of disbelief. Not a good thing for a CEO.
Walter Robb's facial asymmetry involves his lower face and results in him speaking out of the right side of his mouth. This also appears to be a facial palsy (and quite unusual for both CO-CEOs to have this ailment). It's also possible this is a long-standing idiosyncrasy (similar to a facial tic) giving rise to a lop-sided speaking style. When a person momentarily begins to speak out of one side of his mouth - and it's not chronic (e.g., due to injury or a life-long habit, etc.) - it's a signal of hubris or deception.
Early in the video when Mr. Robb says, "Straight-up, ah, we made some mistakes. We want to own that and tell you what we're doing about it"- with the word "ah" - we see a microexpression of fear displayed in a highly characteristic mouth with the corners configured evanescently vectored down and laterally. There's also a tenting of his neck muscles. Fear does not necessarily imply deception in this context because anytime we admit a mistake, there can be and usually is an element of apprehension and fear present. What does the simultaneous prolonged blink suggest?
Both men display a blinking rate significantly above average (Mackey more so - please watch video to appreciate this dynamically) - which is a general indicator of anxiety. It's important to observe a person during normal, non-nervous times to establish a baseline for what is normal for them (dry eye syndrome, for example, can cause a significant increase in blinking). During political debates, even presidential candidates will have an increased rate of this nonverbal display - even during moments of truth-telling.
Did you notice Mr. Mackey's several "hard swallows"?
Far too often in the midst of crisis management, in an effort to solve one problem - another one is created. Otherwise experienced and adept professionals simply (and with misplaced machismo) wing-it when it comes to their body language and related PR skills. While this "weight and pricing" problem is far from the grocery store equivalent of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill - and Mackey or Robb are not Tony Hayward - they're not Daniel Day Lewis or Meryl Streep either.
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