Monday, August 8, 2011

Nonverbal Communication Negotiation Secret # 323:
I am Not a Crook!

It never ceases to amaze me just how many alpha personalities cross their arms in front of their chests' and believe they are projecting power, confidence, assertiveness or some other positive attribute(s). Attorneys do it in court, physicians do so with their patients, CEOs routinely pose this way on magazine covers and sometimes (although it is increasingly rare) even heads of state do it. The above video is the famous moment when U.S. President Richard Nixon said, "...Well, I am not a Crook..." and afterwards he took a step back and slightly to his left, then he crossed his arms tightly. I can think of no better example of this "dis-behavior" than Richard Nixon displayed here. Today is the 37th anniversary of his resignation - perhaps a good time to revisit this moment in history and this dramatically overused, misunderstood and telling body language signal.

The act of stepping backwards (even if it were done without the arm-crossing) in this context, is a strong body nonverbal tell of defensiveness.

When people cross their arms across their chest, defensiveness-insecurity and closed mindedness are the most common emotional tones. There may be, of course, other emotions overlapping too. When clenched fists are seen there may also be and anger-hostility component present. Tightly clenched fists may very well be an indicator of an impending violent act. Tucked fingers may indicate a more pure emotional state of insecurity. While a arms crossed with fingers & hands gripping the opposite biceps may indicate an anger-insecurity mix. And although not fully visible, this last variation is what Richard Nixon appears to have been using in the above video.

The obvious exception to the above examples is someone who is cold - people will decrease their surface area by crossing their arms - and often in this setting they with ball up their fists or put their hands under their opposite armpits. This is often very obvious and is usually accompanied by an elevation of the shoulders, foreshortening of the neck and bending of the neck so that the chin covers the neck.

What other tells does Richard Nixon show display?