Thursday, May 31, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis #1843:
United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice
in Response to Syrian Government's Houla Massacre

Ms. Rice is a strong and well-spoken leader. Although she is both petite (1.60 M or 5'3") and attractive, she projects a presence and strength far greater than her stature or looks typically afford in our male chauvinistic World. One not-so-obvious reason for this is her nonverbal communication skills. Note at the very beginning of the video, and again during the 4:22 - 4:33 segments, when the camera focus is wide, Ms. Rice is standing with her feet approximately shoulder width apart (we can tell she stands like this throughout the press conference if we look at her shoulder height compared with the backdrop - note how this doesn't change - if she stood with her feet together she would appear taller). Too many female (and male) "leaders" stand with their feet very close together. While this feet-together stance does project femininity, and there are times Susan may very well want to stand in such a configuration, in many contexts it projects lack of confidence, low levels of assertiveness, diminished power and even acquiescence. Delivering a speech or press conference, particularly at the U.N., certainly is not a time to look demure. Woman in most cultures are not used to standing in such a manner by social convention. Thus their unconsciousness's directs them most times to stand with their feet together. Obviously, standing with feet too far apart projects the wrong signals too - and this body language is certainly not advocated either. Positioning the feet a shoulder's width apart projects the right level of assertiveness, power and confidence that any leader, male or female should stand when in such a prominent leadership role. Despite standing with feet apart, one critique offered here to Ms. Rice - is not too stand with her toes pointed inwards. This is an additional layer of nuance to look for when dissecting and quantifying the confidence of others. Note that at the 4:30 time-mark, she re-adjusts her right foot and rotates it outward - simultaneously dialing up her assertiveness. It is very important to emphasize that these positions of the legs & feet not only appear more confident, assertive, powerful, etc. to anyone watching - they also will literally change brain chemistry and physiology such that these emotions will truly be increased. This will subsequently be reflected in one's voice, word choice, fluidity of thought and action.

Another tool used by Ms. Rice in this press conference is a lectern with an open design, utilizing a thin central beam. This affords us a full view of the Ambassador. We trust someone when we can see more of them. Thus the open-lectern is a rapport building tool that all leaders - corporate or government - male or female - short or tall should use. The less we can visualize - the less we trust. Very few lecterns are designed with a person of short stature in mind.  Even if Miss Rice were a 1.91 M (6'3") man, an open lectern would still be a very wise idea - but being so petite, this also allows her to control her environment in a way that a tradition wide lectern does not. She is building rapport, sending signals of openness and honesty by this simple but crucial detail.

Secret # 903: The More I see of You .... Plexiglass Podiums

Secret # 33: Transparency in Words and Actions

Ambassador Rice does use the traditional index finger (aka forefinger) point. She should avoid using this body language gesture as virtually all cultures find it offensive. The forefinger point is a rapport destroyer. A much better alternative is to point with loose fingers (not fully extended), palm pointed upwards, elbow bent (arm not fully extended either). This mode of pointing engenders a much more cooperative and nonthreatening feeling while still projecting confidence and authority.

Secret # 1224: Two-Handed Index Finger Point

Secret # 1652: Crude Oil, Speculators and Counting with Thumb First

Analysis # 1705: Francois Hollande & the French Presidential Election - The Pistol Steeple and Emotional Dissonance

Secret # 1233: Putin's Pointing Pen 

Analysis # 793: The Index Finger Point - A Rare Exception

Although it is difficult to see throughout most of the video, Susan Rice commits several hand to hand touches in front of her central lower chest & upper abdomen. While some very brief uses of a low steeple would be helpful here to project power and authority, they should be deliberately choreographed and used only for a second or two during particularly important statements. Otherwise, the conventional steeple can backfire and send signals of arrogance. I don't believe Ms. Rice committed this nonverbal faux pax here, although again, it is difficult to see because of the tight camera angle. She also would be well advised to not touch the opposite hand or commit brief self "hand-holds" that so many people do when speaking (watch almost any news reporter for both this bad body language blunder as well as the dramatic over-use of the conventional low steeple).

At the 5:21 Mark, just after an audience/press member asks Ms. Rice, "Was there any country that immediately dismissed the idea of sanctions, or do you see an opening for discussion there?", she exhibited a prolonged bilateral blink (indicating a desire to block the subject from her mind - and there of are indeed diplomatic road blocks here), a looking away (at 5:22 - a similar emotional tone and cause as the prolonged blink) and a more than moderate contempt nonverbal (5:22 - 5:23). Susan Rice has strong contempt to countries (and leaders) that are blocking the effectiveness of any sanctions (a' la Vladimir Putin).

The Ambassador uses the basketball steeple and the palms up gestures very well - much better than the vast majority of speakers/politicians/leaders in any given venue. This gives her confidence and connects her in both an intellectual and especially an emotional manner with her audience - even the small minority who may disagree with her. In short, although not perfect, Susan Rice's body language is very good and sends signals of strong leadership as it also aides dramatically to build rapport and consensus.