The Subtle Turn-Away Michel Camdessus, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, listens during a press conference in Lyon, France. His finger over his mouth is an example of a specific Emblem. Of course, we all recognized this as children – “Be Quiet!”, “Shsssss!”, “Don’t Speak!”. But another critical detail here is that the finger doing the “Shssssing” is his middle finger (his index finger is supporting his chin) – thus Mr. Camdessus is displaying a second, particularly caustic, emblem.
The following photo is a subtle example of dislike of the question or questioner. Here, President Obama has his head slightly turned away from the reporter during a press conference in the East Room of the White House. We have a stong tendency to not look directly at those whom we don’t like, don’t trust, disrespect or when reliability or motive is questioned. President Obama shows us another subtle sign which is congruent with a head turn in this context – a very slight narrowing of the eye opening/coming together of the eyelids. If this were a video, we would see its very fleeting and dynamic nature. There is often a simultaneous pulling back of the head (very subtle here) and a slight tightening of the face in the “mustache area”. As this emotion grows, this tightening will progress to include nostril dilation (not present here) which is indicative of disgust, or contempt if it’s unilateral.
Like most modern presidents, Mr. Obama is very skilled at the nuances of expressing what he wants in any given situation – and yet even the Masters will display tells. Most everyone can see extreme examples of emotion, but it continues to amaze me how few otherwise social adept and skilled people can spot moderate, let alone subtle examples of very common emotions. This is one of the great advantages of becoming proficient at body language – for the emotions are still present – they’re just being camouflaged. Recognizing them will give you an extreme advantage.
Disgust & Incredulity
This is a photo of Christine Lagarde, France’s Finance Minister, at a News Conference in November of 2010 in Lyon. There is the classic display of moderate disgust exemplified by a great display of Nostril Flaring with accompanying mid-face tightening. When it comes to disgust (or contempt) what is rarely discussed in body language texts – Ms. Lagarde illustrates rather nicely. She is leaning dramatically away from the object of disgust. We lean, and/or turn away from those we dislike, disrespect or distrust – often suddenly – and all three of these feelings can overlap with disgust. It’s amazing how often this tell is glossed over.
Interestingly, Ms. Lagarde was not angry at the moment of this photo. Another emotion we often see with disgust is beautifully illustrated by her elevated medial (inner) eyebrows along with her entire forehead. In this context, these changes illustrate disbelief and they may only be there for a brief flash (as little as 0.04 of a second!). She is disgusted, and her emotional brain can’t quite believe what she is seeing and/or hearing.
If you see this expression directed at you – and you know you’re telling the truth – you must stop the conversation and address the specifics behind the other’s disbelief. You’ll have some explaining to do – but you cannot pass up this golden moment to correct a misplaced incredulity – lest it gets a chance to set in and becomes more of a permanent belief. Certainly be tactful and ask open-ended questions – use the Socratic Method (don’t ever say “I can read your body language and I know you’re don’t believe me”). Always remember the potency of your ability to change another’s mind drops off dramatically as time passes. Therein lies one of the great values of leaning, practicing and using body language.
Disparity and Body Language Signals
Muammar al-Gadhafi, the current leader of Libya – at least for the next few hours, can be seen here giving the “Thumbs up” emblem – which in the majority of countries and regions of the World is a clear and unequivocal indication of positive emotions. But this does not tell the whole story. Like most leaders (or those in leadership positions), Muammar is fairly skilled at disguising his true feelings; but what is covered up in one area will leak out in another. Gadhafi’s face displays mild-to-moderate levels of Contempt. The left side of his mouth is elevated and his lip is curled. The “mustache” area is also tightened and his left nostril is also dilated. These are all clear indications of Contempt. Whenever a positive gesture (here thumbs up) is displayed along with a negative expression (contempt), it is the negative one which indicates the true emotional state. So long Muammar – you won’t be missed!
The False Tie Adjust
Here Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi is shown “adjusting” the knot in his tie – however this is a False Tie Adjust. It is performed at times of considerable anxiety, concern, emotional discomfort, fear, worry or vulnerability. Fondling a necklace in this same area is a common female equivalent, although women in an similar emotional state will often touch this portion of their neck (known as the supra-sternal notch) even if there is no clothing covering it, nor any necklace present (Navarro). Such self-touching is an example of a Manipulator/Adaptor/Pacifier (MAPs). It is highly recommended that leaders avoid this gesture and other MAPs in public.
Note Mr. Berlusconi has a fairly sincere smile. When a signal of comfort (here, a sincere smile) coexists with a signal of anxiety (false tie adjust) – it is the anxiety which is truly being experienced emotionally. Silvio is a professional and is skilled at smiling on demand – but professionals are human too – and thus while one sign can be “masked” – they all cannot…and behold, the truth slips out!
Two Critical Evaluation Emblematic Slips
An emblem is a very specific signal that has a precise meaning and is ubiquitously understood within a culture or geographic area. When done in overtly, in the conventional position, everyone recognizes it. But in the everyday, it is often subtle and camouflaged – and it “slips out” subconsciously (Read: Paul Ekman). So while we all know when a teacher is attempting to quiet and unruly classroom, or one driver “flips off” another for cutting in front of them – when these emblems get packaged up and delivered by our subconsciousness in a subtly different position – they can slip by us and are more difficult to see.
While there are several other signs of critical evaluation seen in this photo, there is no doubt that Mr. Camdessus doesn’t like what he’s hearing – moreover, he doesn’t like the speaker at all. If you see this while you’re negotiating a contract, you’re in for a steep uphill climb. If you see this during a discussion with your boss – polish you resume’ ASAP!
Dr. Jack Brown writes regularly on Body Language Success, one of the most notable and helpful blogs on physical communication. His consulting and coaching work has been featured on CNN, Nevada Sun, and CBS. As a physician, he himself has benefited dramatically from the Art and Science of Body Language for more than 20 years.
The Subtle Turn-Away
Michel Camdessus, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, listens during a press conference in Lyon, France. His finger over his mouth is an example of a specific Emblem. Of course, we all recognized this as children – “Be Quiet!”, “Shsssss!”, “Don’t Speak!”. But another critical detail here is that the finger doing the “Shssssing” is his middle finger (his index finger is supporting his chin) – thus Mr. Camdessus is displaying a second, particularly caustic, emblem.