Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Negotiation Body Language Secret # 813:
Ask Osama Bin Laden about Appeasement

When President Obama is asked by a reporter for his reaction to others' accusations that he practices a foreign policy of appeasement (a few seconds of this and other videos of this press conference have been edited out here), President Obama responds, "Ask Osama Bin Laden... and the ... twenty-two out thirty top Al-Qaeda leaders ... who've been taken off the field .... ah ... whether I engage in appeasement ....". Just as the video cuts back to the President, and just prior to his answer (at 0:12), you will see President Obama exhibit a dramatic "Inward Lip Roll" (ILR). This is a bit different than the ILR sited a few days ago with French President Sarkozy (See:Negotiation Body Language Secret # 531: Sarkozy's Mouth Tells Us What He's Feeling, picture number two), where Nicolas rolls his lips between his teeth - gently biting down on them. In the example above however, President Obama is unable to do this, because his teeth are clenched (his jaw is shut tight). This is a strong and classic signal of anger. The clenched jaw may not be obvious to all - but if you watch carefully, you'll notice the area adjacent to Obama's lips bunch up - especially below his lower lip. For a couple seconds, they have nowhere else to go and the coexisting tension in the jaw muscles spills forward into a dramatic contraction of the area around the mouth and lips. 

The Inward Lip Roll tells us anxiety is present - however very often the particular anxiety of the ILR is an anger-related variety and commonly is also a signal of an effort to control and down-regulate a negative emotional display. While President Sarkozy's ILR (teeth open and lips bitten between them) has less of a component of anger, President Obama's ILR example here (teeth closed and lips bunched in front) is more consistent with a higher anger level. Although both men do an excellent job of controlling their negative emotions, we can better qualify the feelings of others' and also quantify their anger levels by contrasting these two valuable nonverbal tells.