Saturday, September 23, 2023

Body Language Analysis №4719: Mary Barra, General Motors President regarding UAW Strike - Nonverbal and Emotional Intelligence


In the context of the first-ever UAW Union simultaneous strike against all three major American companies, Mary Barra (General Motors CEO) was interviewed this past Monday on CNN. What follows is a partial Body Language and Behavior Analysis of crucial portions of this interview.

One of the most common body language questions I'm asked is, "What is the most common sign that someone is being insincere?" or its close variation — "What is the most common signal that people are trying to manipulate me?"

This is a subject of great importance. Pay close attention to the forehead. A constantly/near constantly elevated forehead is *thee* most common and reliable signal that a person is being insincere and/or being manipulative.

For the vast majority of this interview, you'll note that, across its entire width, Mary Barra's forehead is contracted and elevated.

An elevated forehead also elevates the eyebrows. It also often (but not always) elevates the upper eyelids — giving the eyes a wide-open configuration. When done too frequently or in the wrong context, this is a profound red flag.


Taken in isolation, an eyeslids-wide-open display is seen with emphasis, alarm, fear, severe anger/rage, and surprise .... (0:58)

... and if displayed *too frequently* — or out of context — an eyelids-wide-open display correlates strongly with deception and manipulation (with or without any accompanying forehead elevation). 

pain, or in significant emotional pain — will display a prolonged contraction of their *central* forehead (not across the entire width)...

... but crucially, in order for their expressed-felt emotion to be one of sadness, grief, physical pain, or emotional pain — the rest of their face — especially their mouth, must also be displaying congruently sad or painful emotions.

If the central forehead is elevated and contracted and elevated, but their mouth is expressing even a scintilla of a smile, their thought-emotions indicate a completely different thought-emotion.

This is also true when the entire width of the forehead is contracted and elevated upward — in conjunction with a mouth smile, (4:54). Barra's wide-opened eyelids amplify this emotional tone.

This amalgam of expressions is a profound red flag that will cause distrust, and not surprisingly (depending on how long it is held) sometimes frightens people. Whenever you see smiling out of context — it should always alert your radar.

There's another behavior exhibited throughout much of this interview — Mary Barra is speaking with her mouth in an asymmetrical configuration. This behavior is quite prominent when Mary Barra defends her $29,000,000 salary.

Some people talk out of the side of their mouth constantly. It's ingrained 24/7/365 — a lifelong/near lifelong pattern (i.e., former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson).

Rex Tillerson's asymmetrical mouth speaking is his baseline behavior. But this is not the case with Mary Barra — she switches back and forth between speaking symmetrically — but then, for a length of time, speaking asymmetrically. 

*Intermittent* asymmetrical mouth speaking (when not part of a long term constant behavior as mentioned with Rex Tillerson) is a strong signal of bravado, braggadocio, and deception.

Intriguingly, actors (even very skilled actors) often also speak out of the sides of their mouths' — while they're acting. Acting is a special form of deception — it's deception with consent. However, acting without consent is lying.

Mary Barra also exhibited an asymmetrical resting mouth while she was *not* speaking. Her particular configuration displayed by Barra in this moment is an amalgam of contempt and regret (1:20).


And this display shows an outright contempt for the UAW (2:18). Barra's partially closed eyelids, while not a requirement for contempt display, in this context it does act as a contempt amplifier).


As she says, "incredible" (0:49), Barra tilts her head-neck backward, central forehead elevated and contracted, closing her eyelids, and gestures with a bilateral palm-out display — another amalgam of behaviors which is highly manipulative.

Note that Barra's asymmetrical mouth is also present during this display.

Although it can certainly be a fault of poor style, anxiety, or verbosity — those who are being deceptive also tend to use more tautologies — i.e., here Barra says, "we're in an incredibly exciting time in this industry" immediately followed by the words "right now".

These verbal redundancies often indicate a person is trying (trying too hard) to convince you. When you hear tautologies, ask yourself, "Why?". This verbal behavior is congruent with her body language behavior (and her vocal qualities/tone of voice).

You'll note that Mary Barra's head-neck tilts backward quite a bit during this interview (while at other times her head-neck is held straight/vertical). This backward head/neck tilt signals arrogance and condescending emotional tones.

As Barra addresses her salary increase compared to the average GM worker's salary increase, looks down to her right, and stammers, ("I think, ah..."), blinks rapidly, with an elevated forehead elevated (3:47). Red flags flashing. Sirens blaring.

We can see a hard Swallow at 7:19 - 7:20 displayed as the interviewer asks about Barra's conversation with President Biden. Hard swallowing is a strong indicator of anxiety.

Note that Barra never answered the question (the interviewer should have pressed her for an answer). Her avoidance in answering is profoundly telling. 

Moreover, Mary Barra never even mentioned President Biden's name — or anyone else's name ("so I've been speaking to many members of congress and the administration").

Barra also looks down to her right as she responds (but doesn't answer this question). Our right lower quadrant is the direction to which we look correlating with thinking-feelings of shame, guilt, deception, and sadness (7:25).

SUMMARY: Mary Barra, General Motors CEO, displays multiple signals of insincerity, manipulation, and deception during this interview. 

All individuals, organizations, and businesses who want to (need to) nuance their understanding of Emotional Intelligence and dramatically improve their Body Language skills — please email me at:

This post and others accompanying it, serve as a reference source for the art and science of Body Language/Nonverbal Communication. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the author. In an effort to be both practical and academic, many examples from/of varied cultures, politicians, professional athletes, legal cases, public figures, etc., are cited in order to teach and illustrate both the interpretation of others’ body language as well as the projection of one’s own nonverbal skills in many different contexts.