Monday, October 22, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis #2160:
Index Finger (Forefinger) Pointing in Politics -
The Third (and Final) 2012 Presidential Debates -
Body Language of Being an Alpha Male without Offending

Index finger (forefinger) pointing is universally offensive and should strongly avoided. When watching politicians we tend sometimes to allow them wider behavior norms than for most other people and situations. However this is a slippery slope and can be taken too far - and often leads to excess and often backfires. The second 2012 Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was one of these times.

In a political debate setting, while the forefinger point will perhaps help to solidify one's base - this over-alpha body language will act to alienate the undecided voter. Indeed when you point, even those who like you and your cause(s) will be left with uncomfortable feelings. Attorneys who display this nonverbal in the courtroom may feel more authoritative and dominant, but this will often push the jury and/or judge to opposite opinions. The image above is from the second U.S. Presidential debate last week. If this behavior were replicated in a board room or a coffee shop - it would engender an escalation to stronger negative emotions and may very well lead to physical altercation. We want to see and listen to those who are running for such high offices. We want them illustrate their differences in opinions and show us their personalities, demonstrate how they handle themselves and how they think on their feet. But we don't want them to lose their temper or have any insecurities. It's often a fine line.

In the setting of a presidential debate there is always the issue of looking too beta, too demure and thus a weaker leader - as President Obama did during the first debate. So when the other candidate points at you - you tend to want to point back - lest you're seen as a shrinking candidate and not worthy of leadership. And while he did a good job making up for this and looking more Presidential and authoritative during the second debate, Obama displayed the index finger point much more often - something which is unusual for Barack. One place in particular where he committed this faux pas was when he pointed at the audience - and declaring how he will find who is responsible for the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Libya last month. We all do this on occasion - point our finger at one person or group when we  are really directing our emotions at people who are not present. They act as temporary surrogates for our anger. This is a mild form of displaced aggression. During the second debate, this was one time when the President did get angry and given the unprovoked attack and deaths of innocents, most welcome this anger. However the President should have pointed downwards rather that at the audience - and he should have also used more force with arm/hand movements (illustrators) and jabbed towards the floor several times. The map is not the territory and the terrorists are not the audience.

When Romney and Obama (or any other two candidates) point at each other during a debate - this fits into a different nonverbal context compared with when either points at the audience. The rules are more lax. But when you watching be careful not to incorporate this behavior into your body language repertoire. We expect and welcome some level sparing between these two. When we watch a football game though, we don't want to get tackled.

See also:

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2152: Second Presidential Debate - 16 October 2012 - Barack Obama's Duping Delight - Benghazi, Libya Attack was an "Act of Terror" - Alpha, Beta, Confidence & Acquiescence ....

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2777: Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, John McCain and John Boehner

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 1918: Vladimir Putin - Pointing with Pen Surrogates - Sharp vs. Blunt

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 793: The Finger Point - A Rare Exception

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2149: Losing Votes with the Double Index Finger Point - A Faux Pas nearly Every Time