Friday, November 30, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 2208:
President Obama & Mitt Romney in the Oval Office -
Multiple Body Language Tells

Mitt Romney visited President Obama yesterday at the White House. In this image above, there are several nonverbal tells which betray both of their emotions and (although it was a private meeting) - we can be pretty sure weren't expressed by their words. 

Barack's left (and dominant) hand is in his hip pocket (of course, handshakes are by custom performed with the right hand). This body language display tells us that he really doesn't want to be meeting with Mitt. It's nearly always misinterpreted as a signal of nonchalance or relaxation - however it's a reliable nonverbal signal of non-engagement and mental-emotional withdraw. Think of this as a turtle with his head in his shell. When you see it, emotional dissonance should come to mind. The President really doesn't want to be there - and yet he said he would meet with Romney. His emotions are split.

Romney's hand position during the handshake shows that he's still trying to display dominance - a poor concession for not having that Oval Office for his own. His dominant "hand on top" configuration is a strong alpha nonverbal. The President's acquiescence by taking the submissive, beta position in this context is congruent with his hand-in-pocket configuration (a "gimmie") - neither of which he did in any of their three debates.

Although this is not a high resolution image, Mitt Romney's "smile" is clearly not a true smile at all - but a poor attempt at a "social smile". The thinned upper lip with essentially horizontal morphology indicates an emotional tone of anger. There is also a bitterness component seen here. If any of us were in Mr. Romney's shoes, we'd all probably have a similar mouth display - and his facial display is not a surprise here. But it does serve as a good teaching example when we have clear insight into his emotional tone.

See also:

Negotiation Nonverbal Communication Analysis #1510: Handshakes, Statesmanship and Dominance -  Manmohan Singh & Asif Ali Zardari