Saturday, June 23, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 1899:
Bill Cassidy and "Obama-care" -
Letting your Body Language Detract from your Message

You may or may not agree with the Affordable Health Care for America Act - aka "Obama-care" - and polling shows that more than half of Americans disagree with it in part or whole - however Representative Bill Cassidy's (R-LA) open statement regarding his (and the Republican Party's) view that the Supreme Court (and Congress) must repeal it - reveal some major mistakes from a body language standpoint. If you truly desire to communicate, you should seek to do so on all levels - including language, paralanguage (tone, cadence, rhythm, volume, etc.) and nonverbally.

Representative Cassidy used the very common "political point" much too often in this video announcement. While it is a good gesture to use relatively sparingly - especially in lieu of the traditional index finger (forefinger) point, Dr. Cassidy overused it to extreme. No one (except for ill-advised politicians) uses the political point this excessively. Overuse of any particular nonverbal - at the very best transmits "I'm a rookie" and most of the time creates an air of insincerity and distrust. It destroys rapport rather than building it.

While several times he uses a palm-down gesture, at no time in this speech does Representative Cassidy use a palms-up illustrator.  Palms-down hand usage should be used minimally if at all and at very specific times of short duration. The same is true of the pseudo-prayer hand chop as well as (briefly) its close cousin the conventional steeple. All of these nonverbals (except palms up) are authoritarian and are overused by politicians and most other alpha personalities. They send signals of arrogance and condescension. Palms-up gestures (which also can be over-used) create feelings of openness and authority without being "over-alpha" (Pease).

The fact that Cassidy had no lectern or desk in front of him was a smart move. The more we can see of a person, the more we trust him/her. The high-stool seating used by many in the political setting (debates, interviews, etc.) is also over used though and looks unnatural. Men end up sitting with their legs wider splayed than they otherwise would - and thus end up folding their hands in front of their crotch (which is what Cassidy repeatedly does and in this setting it adds to a patronizing feeling). This scenario is repeated and much worse for women - particularly if wearing a skirt or dress. This awkwardness and uncomfortable seating translates to significantly less fluid speaking. High stool seating is unnatural and should be avoided. 

Another nonverbal which detracts from Representative Cassidy's rapport is his elevated right eyebrow and contracted right forehead. This was done extensively throughout the video - even when he was speaking about what he believes to be a proper course of action. This forehead/eyebrow body language adds doubt and incredulity to his message. It is possible that this is secondary to a peripheral facial nerve palsy (such as Bell's Palsy or injury) on his left, but it is doubtful since there are no other signs of this.

No doubt Rep. Cassidy believes what he is saying, but his nonverbal displays are not building rapport - they are destroying it. Got rapport?