Monday, August 21, 2017

Body Language Analysis No. 4038: Donald Trump's Afghanistan Speech - Nonverbal and Emotional Intelligence (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

President Trump gave a speech on Monday 21 August 2017 regarding his Military Strategy in Afghanistan. The entire speech is included in the video above. This site is a reference source for body language and its relationship to emotional intelligence, not political ideology. What follows is a partial nonverbal analysis of Donald Trump's speech.

One nonverbal clue which was extremely striking during the President's speech was his profound lack of looking straight ahead into the camera. Even taking into account the teleprompters, the President Trump either looked right or left - yet literally, less than one percent of the time did the President look directly into the camera.

He preferred looking to his right a bit more frequently than to his left. Such a right over left bias is not surprising given the President's right-hand dominance. To nuance this further, he just didn't turn his head or eyes to his right or left - rather he also turned his torso in these directions (again, doing so more frequently and dramatically to his right).

This lack of "eye contact" (e.g., straight ahead, into the camera) at which millions of people and many heads-of-state will be looking - is a profound nonverbal tell. In the past, when President Trump has relied on teleprompters - he had still looked forward into the camera a significant fraction of the speech - but not so yesterday.

Donald Trump, who normally uses a low variety of nonverbal displays - including hand gestures ("Illustrators") - was particularly "monotone" with his body language during his speech.

The specific gesture shown immediately above in some countries (including the US), is known as "The Political Point". In other regions (e.g., Greece, Turkey, Russia, Brazil, and others) it's an obscene gesture - while yet in other places (France, Belgium, Tunisia) it indicates "worthlessness".

In many nations (including the US), outside the context of a pointing surrogate, when the tip of the forefinger (index finger) is touching the tip of the thumb with the other digits extended, it indicates "okay", "everything is all right" or "I agree with you". Yet these are recognizably different scenarios from most political speeches.

In the past 25-30 years, many politicians have come to use the political point nonverbal signal instead of index finger pointing while speaking. In general, this is a good idea - and it's one of many types of body language signals that are known as "alpha-beta hybrids". It fits in this category because it's not nearly as hyper-alpha, aggressive, and offensive as pointing at someone with one's forefinger - while still projecting a good level of authority, strength, and determination.

The trouble with the political point, however, is that most politicians who use it, tend to over-use it - and President Trump is certainly guilty of this body language faux pas. He committed this error even more dramatically Monday night. Whenever someone uses any nonverbal signal too frequently, it's a bad idea. It's very much as if they spoke a certain word too often. It backfires. It looks unpolished. It makes people emotionally uncomfortable. Of course, this same principle applies to almost everything in human behavior. It also sends another message though - it makes the user look nervous (because he is).

Another intriguing factor about the political point - is that outside the realm of politics, the political point is almost never used - and that makes people suspicious. And in this light, it sends strong signals of insincerity.

Another gesture the President over-used was a palm-down gesture. When he did so with his left hand, he tended to keep the heel of his hand planted on the side of the podium (lectern). This is a lower-level alpha gesture. Again though, Donald Trump did this much too frequently.

A third gesture the President displayed much too often was a palm-up, facing toward the audience. Of the three illustrators discussed here, this one is most alpha. If used, it should be kept to a small fraction of any speech. It will tend to alienate any people who are "on the fence". It's a rapport destroyer, not a rapport builder.

All three of these gestures are also very common in President Trump's nonverbal tool kit. He uses all of these a lot - but tonight his variety dropped especially low.

Summary: Donald Trump literally looked straight ahead at the camera less than one percent of this speech. He was biased to the right or to the left - but hardly at all up the middle. Even taking into account the use of teleprompters, comparing the speech to past events, this was profound. His lack of variety of hand gestures, along with the President's virtually nonexistent eye contact is because his confidence (and/or his physiology) was significantly diminished.

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See also:

Body Language Analysis No. 4037: Charlottesville Protester Quits Boston University after Death Threats

Body Language Analysis No. 4034: Steve Bannon's Critical Evaluation

Body Language Analysis No. 4032: John Kelly's Reaction to Donald Trump's Press Conference Regarding the Events in Charlottesville

Body Language Analysis No. 4030: Charlottesville, Empathy, and One Expression Donald Trump Should Have Displayed

Body Language Analysis No. 4018: Alexis Bledel and "The Handmaid's Tale"

Body Language Analysis No. 4008: Veteran Who Survived Dunkirk Reacts to Film

Body Language Analysis No. 3973: Alex Jones, Megyn Kelly, and a Fundamental Insincerity Tell

Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3862: Oscars Mistake - "La La Land" erroneously named Best Picture over "Moonlight"

Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3765: Conjoined twins Jadon and Anias McDonald - See each other directly for the first time