A few hours after this photograph was taken, on 30 September 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was back on British soil. He stood at 10 Downing Street and said, "The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you: ' ... We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.' My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep."
Just three days later, Winston Churchill (who would become Prime Minister in May of 1940) said (among other things), "England has been offered a choice between war and shame. She has chosen shame, and will get war." In less than 11 months, Churchill of course was proved correct.
"Peace for Our Time". Is that what Chamberlain really believed in his attempt at appeasing Germany? Peace was certainly not what Hitler had intended.
What does nonverbal communication say of this moment?
Prime Minister Chamberlain's face is only partially visible - less than a full side profile. It is not possible to conclude whether his smile was a sincere one or not.
Was Adolf Hitler's smile Sincere (a Duchenne Smile)? No - however it was a fairly convincing "Social Smile". It would (and did) fool most people. Why specifically wasn't it sincere? Look carefully at his lower eyelids. Do they meet the criteria for joy-happiness? What about the configuration of his mouth? How does the presence of a mustache influence our ability to accurately interpret nonverbal cues?
Although this is just one moment in time, it emphasizes the profound importance of being able to discern a sincere moment from a deceptive one.
Look at Chamberlain's torso - he's leaning into the handshake/toward Hitler - while Hitler's torso is relatively vertical. Does this body orientation of the British Prime Minister show engagement?
Take a moment to look at their hands. We can see Hitler's fingers and thumb but not the rest.
Note that Chamberlain's hand is cupped - with the palm of his hand concave thus preventing full contact with Hitler's palm. This lack of palm-to-palm contact, or "cupping" is seen during handshakes when:
A. The people are posing/know they are being photographed
B. When they are trying to exert a stronger grip (attempting to exert alpha behavior, or dominance)
C. When those shaking hands don't feel trust and/or don't like the other person
Obviously the two men were posing for this photograph. And it's not surprising to say each of them would, in this moment want to put forth a firmer handshake than on most occasions.
What about their trust then? When, because of social convention people "have to" shake hands - yet they don't really like or trust the other person, they touch only as much as they "have to" - and no more. This is much akin to a "leaning-in, pat, pat, pat, hug" with a relative whom you can't stand, but because it's a holiday gathering - you hug them anyway. It's impossible to say which of these three was the primary emotional driver in Prime Minister Chamberlain's mind at this moment 78 years ago, however this is a subtle body language tell which should never be ignored, particularly when occurring in relative private.
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