Thursday, January 5, 2012

Negotiation Body Language Secret # 901:
The Over-used Steeple -
Backfire in Berlin

Many politicians over-use the nonverbal gesture known as the steeple, and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel is probably the most guilty of this body language faux pas. There are several variations of it - and here we see Ms. Merkel demonstrating what is referred to as a "Low Steeple". When used very briefly in selected contexts, it can project confidence, assertiveness and leadership. But it very often it is used too much, on virtually every occasion, in dumbed-down, shot gun approach ..... and subsequently it backfires. Sadly, this is what Angela Merkel's advisers have told her to do - to use this signal often - and it has become a self-satire. She is lampooning herself. When held higher, say in front of the mid or upper chest, the conventional steeple has even more potency (a "High Steeple"). But it doesn't take much use to over-steeple - and thus send signals of arrogance and condescension. These are two of the last emotions a leader should ever want to project. A little bit of knowledge is dangerous and herein is another great example. Despite the fact that Angela Merkel is a head-of-state and highly educated she's sending messages she doesn't know she's sending.

When one area of the body adopts a pose - other parts of the face or body will tend to match it. Thus although this is obviously a posed photo, Angela's mid-face and mouth are tightened slightly - consistent with the negative emotional tone of mild anger and perhaps a touch of contempt. If Ms. Merkel would change her hand position and adopt a friendlier pose, her face would soon follow suite and morph into a more pleasant expression. The emotional signals of the hands are strongly linked to the face. Using this cross-referencing technique is a valuable aide when assessing others' nonverbal signs.