Situation Room: A Break Down of Non-Verbal Communication

Image from the Official White House Flickr

It’s the iconic photo that will wind up in history books. As President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and other members of the defense team watched the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound; this picture has quickly become the visual representation of a historic moment.

This picture can give us a lot of insight into what the senior members of the White House staff were thinking, as this photo is clearly an inside look into what the staff was thinking. When they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, it is true because a photo freezes a moment and gives you a chance to study the non-verbal cues of a moment.

Notice that no one in the room is standing close enough to touch each other and that the majority of the men in the room have their arms crossed over their chest. This is a sign of aggression. When we feel aggressive, we do not want anyone in our personal space, and we cross our arms over our chest as a way to protect ourselves against something we do not want to see or hear. It is a protective measure.

It’s obvious that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is feeling a very strong emotion to whatever it is that she is seeing on the screen. Perhaps it was the moment that Osama Bin Laden’s face first appeared on the screen. Perhaps it’s the moment that the “kill shot” was recorded. We may never know, but Hilary’s hand over her mouth, is an expression of disbelief. The images she sees unfolding in front of her are so unfathomable, that she feels uneasy and distrusting.

President Obama’s sitting position indicates that he clearly feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. His back is slouched, his arms on his knees, and the thin, grim lines of his face. There’s a lot going on here. His posture indicates that he feels the weight of whatever is going on, but his face is the most interesting to me. First of all, it’s obvious that he looks tired. I’m sure that making a national security decision like this could keep you up at night. For me, the most telling non-verbal cue for Barack Obama is the shape of his mouth.

His mouth is shaped in a thin line, nearly straight across. I can identify two emotions from such a non-verbal cue: anger and concern. Clearly whatever is going on will change the world, it’s a decision that was made with great care, and now, to watch it unfold, it simply brings concern. President Obama, like all Americans, was affected by the attacks of September 11, 2011, and to be in a position where you get to see the man who was responsible, brought to justice, in my opinion would bring nothing but the original anger back to the surface.

We may never know what scene was being observed of the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, but this picture will be an iconic and important moment.

In business and relationships, we often wish for the ability to read the minds of others. It’s not a thing that we can do, but what we can do is read someone’s body language to at least get an idea of what someone is thinking. This picture is a perfect representation of how much body language can indicate in any particular situation.

Non-verbal cues are important to communication and while the subject matter of your video conference or meeting is probably not going to be as intense as watching a raid on the Most Wanted Man in America, your body language will say a lot about the way you’re feeling.