Carrie Keating has studied the nonverbal gestures of politicians for 30 years, but she found the performance between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on Monday nothing short of incredible.
“Whoever made the arrangements, they so clearly favored Putin. You saw him do almost every dominant behavior you could stage in social science lab study,” said Keating, a professor who studies charisma and leadership at Colgate University.
Keating quickly ticked off more than a dozen nonverbal assertions of dominance by Putin — from Putin’s agile hop onto the podium vs. Trump’s lumbering walk to Putin’s animated gestures and the way he often disregarded the audience when speaking.
But the key nonverbal victory for Putin was the fact that he spoke first and spoke the longest, Keating said.
“In that way, Putin was absolutely dominant. He spoke for so long at the beginning, just going on and on while everyone else including Trump had to wait on him,” she said.
The one instance where Putin appeared to hit pause on his alpha male behavior was during his answers to questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election. “You saw him shrug a lot and raise his eyebrows almost in a childlike way and gestured with an open palm. We call those approach gestures. They’re meant to suggest, ‘I’m not here to hurt you,’ to seem nonthreatening,” Keating said.
But then Putin’s face absolutely danced when Trump started talking about the missing servers and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, she said. “It is just amazing. You see looks of contempt. If you look close, you can see his tongue go into the side of his mouth, almost like he’s trying to inhibit his gestures,” she said.
In the face of Putin’s performance, Keating concluded, “maybe the one thing Trump had going for him was how tall he was … that’s maybe the one aspect he may have won.”