What protocol does not allow you to say… Non-verbal Communication analysis in Obama’s meeting with opposition leaders

There are many things that Obama’s visit to Spain has not told us, but his non-verbal communication reveals to us or at least gives us clues to draw certain conclusions which is interesting to see what he is saying without words. This is the analysis of the photos of Barack Obama and the three main opposition parties at a brief meeting held at the Torrejón airbase, which the White House released to the public recently.

Albert Rivera, the president of Ciudadanos, explained that his party aspires to look for stability so that Spain proposes policy and regeneration changes to allow the country to become modernized. While he was said this, his posture tells us that he does not feel entirely comfortable in the space. His right foot is slightly turned out which shows that he wants to leave the place as soon as possible and his hands are touching close to his chest which establishes a defensive barrier between him and the President of the United States. Never the less, his head is turned towards his left shoulder which shows that he has some interest in what Obama is telling him.

President Obama who looks flawless in the photo distributed by the White House, remains in an upright posture looking into the eyes of the three Spanish politicians with his feet straight in front of him. This is a clear gesture of receptivity towards the conversation… Except in the case of the leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, in which both, especially the Spanish politician, both have one foot turned out, pointing in opposite directions as if they wanted to leave the place.

Iglesias attended the meeting with various signals. He brought a gift for the president (a book about the Lincoln Brigade) and also his clothing and posture provides us with interesting insights. Obama is shown to be close to the others but he directs his body towards the leader of Podemos and he uses his hands in a gesture of openness and reliability with his palms up. The Spaniard is in a position which shows discomfort and aggressiveness. Having our hands on our waist is an unconscious gesture that makes us seem bigger; leaving the heart and the throat exposed which is assumed to be a non-verbal display of value. The conversation should be welcoming but generally, the gesture does not allow the creation of a relaxed atmosphere. Curiously, the space that separates them in the picture is greater than those in other photos.

Finally, the picture with Pedro Sánchez possibly is the most relaxed meeting. The posture of both, with their feet aligned and the short distance between them, demonstrates a clear intention to receptive listening. The hands of the socialist politician are positioned in a gesture of defense that shows clear insecurity although less than Rivera. His arm is at a low height and his palm is upward which suggests reliability.

It is possible that there were conveying all of this to us but as there is no communication without context, interpretation without prejudice, only through interaction between verbal and non-verbal communication we can get the full picture. We consider that what we interpret as a point of what the body and the subconscious tell us while Sánchez, Iglesias and Rivera expressed what the protocol and the current political situation allowed them to say.

Sonia Romero
Expert in Communication and Training Area at ATREVIA

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