Today in Havana, at the very end of the joint press conference of Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, the Cuban President lifted the American President's arm up in the air. In nonverbal parlance, this gesture is an example of an emblem. An emblem has a regional, cultural and sometimes (as is this one) a universally recognized meaning - here in an attempt to show unity and solidarity. The vast majority of emblems are performed on a consciousness level and this was no exception.
What grabbed the news headlines however, was Mr. Obama's response - for his hand rapidly dropped down passively. Some have erroneously ascribed Obama here as being "limp wristed" - in attempts to label the American President as weak or feminine. Yet what was transpiring here was a nonverbal manifestation of cognitive and/or emotional dissonance. Despite wanting to - and then eventually opening up relations with Cuba, Obama is not in agreement with Castro on several issues, particularly those of human rights (a topic on which Castro immediately had finished speaking). Thus Obama wants to show openness and cooperation (ergo his sincere smile) - but he does not want to appear as though he agrees with Castro on all matters - or imply that their differences on Human Rights are trivial.
Mr. Obama is reacting to Mr. Castro's body language analog of "forced teaming" (de Becker). Barack feels like he's being manipulated a bit here - thus his uncommitted hand. It's a nonverbal way of saying, "Not so fast Raúl" - as well as letting the rest of the World know the two countries have a ways to go before they're on the same page.
This post and the associated website serve as reference sources for the art and science of Body Language/Nonverbal Communication. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author. In an effort to be both practical and academic, many examples from/of varied cultures, politicians, professional athletes, legal cases, public figures, etc., are cited in order to teach and illustrate both the interpretation of others’ body language as well as the projection of one’s own nonverbal skills in many different contexts – not to advance any political, religious or other agenda.
The entire press conference can be viewed here:
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