The body reveals who we are and a large proportion of communication is non-verbal, especially when it comes to liking and emotionally significant communication (see Mehrabian). With this in mind I just watched the UK election debate with the sound off in order to assess the bodies and body language of the candidates (before listening to the content). Working with leaders I routinely give an opinion on how they come across to give them insight into their impact and influence. This can be quite an intense process which clients find highly revealing nine times out of ten. Going deeper than short-term body language this process looks at who someone is and how this is embodied. It is known as somatic assessment.
So here is my take on the three candidates:
Nick Clegg – Liberal Democrats
Initial “Hit”: (what came to mind as soon as I saw him): Boyish, likeable, polished
Clegg comes across reasonably well to me in many ways though I also saw a lack of solidity in his body that doesn’t become a potential national leader. His body language is very well managed to the point of being a performance, this can come across as inauthentic and could lose trust which his natural engaging warmth would otherwise engender. He also appeared to listen to the other candidates which I take as a good sign though this and other gestures could be seen as a little subservient to them. I question whether he really sees himself as their equal and sometimes seemed to be trying too hard. His sincere and intense eye furrows were a part of this and also part of his appeal.
In looking to the camera and putting his head forward he occasionally came across as patronising. On the positive I liked that he seemed to have genuine passion for whatever he was taking about and a very “human” feel.
Under pressure: Uncentred. He allowed himself to get flustered and rushed (though passionate)
Overall Assessment: Golden or yellow boy?
Initial Hit: monstrous, aggressive, tired
Mr Brown begins clutching the podium as if for dear life, perhaps hardly surprisingly. Throughout the debate his body and manner is that of ill health (e.g. his weight, leaning on the podium and bags under his eyes) and bullying. I have no idea if Gordon is a bully, but he comes across as one and frankly I find him a little scary. His mood seems one of stubborn cantankerous aggression as he bashes home points and snarls.
His breathing is also unusual – taking sharp gasps of between words which reminds me of a drowning man or just one who is very unhealthy and may not see another term through. The way his head is shrunk into his body gives him a dense immoveable quality which I associate with stubbornness. Beneath all this however he does have a level of gravitas (showing up somatically in the dimension of depth) that the other two only aspire to and put-on. His experience is embodied. Gesturaly his one-sided hand movements were both less balanced yet more authentic than the other candidates. I suspect he is his own man and hard to train.
Under pressure: Bulldog chewing on a bone
Overall Assessment: Tough leader or monstrous blood-red bully?
Initial Hit: Contained, held, polished, dispassionate
Like Clegg Cameron has clearly been trained by body language experts – note the presidential hand gestures , not normally part of the British repertoire and thumb not finger point. Combined with his skin tone these can make him look very plastic. He came across as both controlled and restrained (perhaps useful in the economic climate) and less positively – slimy, put-on and fake. On an unconscious level Cameron like most politicians whose trained body language rings all sorts of alarm bells as incongruence is picked up subconsciously. What he looks like to me is a politician, and that is not a compliment.
Tory upper-class superiority is apparent in a number of Cameron’s gestures and posture (e.g. a slightly raised chin and eyebrows that go up saying “who me, I’m innocent”) and while I’d guess he has consciously reduced his pomposity I’m guessing what is left will still put off many voters. What worries me most about Cameron however his though is his eyes – they seem dead. Despite some put-on gestures of care, and occasional boyish charm, I would say Cameron has little empathy or heart and may even be a deeply dangerous individual. I have spent a little time around amoral psychopaths and frankly he has the same hollow gaze.
Under pressure: You’d need feelings to feel pressure. Cameronator?
Overall Assessment: Cool-blue restraint or fake cold care?
A note on positioning:
In moderate British politics it is normally the party in the centre who wins so I wonder how they chose positions in this case – randomly? However another factor is that the person on the left of a picture/screen is usually seen as more dominant – in this case Clegg.
A note on my personal politics for those who are wondering – I am not attached to any political party and my vote is currently undecided. Here in Brighton we have a string Green candidate in addition to the three mainstream parties. I pay little attention to politics day-to-day and this was the first time I have assessed the candidates. I have tried to be equally scathing with all of them by way of fairness.
I am currently consulting with several leaders in the field of body language and embodied assessments so this post will be updated with their opinions at a later date. For now, take what you like from this, it is no doubt a mix of expert, researched and considered opinion with personal prejudice and projection. If you doubt what I say I’ll offer this to finish- go online and watch the debate again with the sound off – what does YOUR gut tell you? Vote with that and ignore the lies.