Our body language conveys so much about how we really feel about one another and we’re quick to judge world leaders on the way they stand and interact when they appear in public. But what is really going on when they’re pictured together?
German business school, GISMA, worked with body language experts, Robin Kermode and Elizabeth Kuhnke, to analyse photos and discover what world leaders really think of each other based on their body language. It turns out that not all leaders are as confident and approachable as you may imagine.
Here, the experts reveal how some of the top world leaders feel about being in certain situations, based on their body language when pictured in some of the most important encounters.
Obama and Merkel’s casual and relaxed encounter
One of Europe’s leading communications coaches and founder of professional training and coaching consultancy, Zone2.co.uk, Kermode, says: “Obama looks relaxed here as he allows Merkel to take the lead, which gives him a slightly higher status. This is a generous act and the sign of someone confident enough not to have to take the lead. Although Merkel’s smile is relaxed, she’s not quite as comfortable, with her body language appearing slightly tighter than Obama’s.”
Kuhnke, body language expert and best-selling author, also commented on Obama’s relaxed stance. She said: “The pose gives Obama an aura of casual charm, comfort and confidence.”
Johnson and Abe’s courteous and strained handshake
About the pictured handshake above, Kuhnke says: “Boris Johnson looks strained and polite rather than fully engaged, with his posture and expression looking forced.”
Kermode adds: “Although both men are about the same height, Boris’ right arm appears to come down from on high as if he is trying to make himself appear taller or stronger. Interestingly, although he is not as big a man as Boris, Shinzo Abe looks more centred and able to hold his ground while Boris is forced to lean slightly in, which pulls him off-centre. Neither man seems genuinely interested in the other, with their smiles being courteous rather than sincere. If both leaders had relaxed their arms a little, they would have looked more like two people who are on the same side.”
Trump and Putin’s intense public meeting
On this photo, Kermode comments: “Putin seems to be more confident and centred than Trump. He doesn’t need help from outside sources but rather keeps his gaze firmly on Trump. By lowering his head and leaning in a collaborative manner, he appears to give power to the other person by subverting himself.
“Trump on the other hand seems uncomfortable with that level of intensity and so he looks away to speak and appears to seek reassurance from external sources.”
Kuhnke adds: “Both men are establishing their power and connection by leaning towards one another. Putin’s right thumb is in a position of forcefulness which focuses the viewer’s attention to him.”
Macron and Putin’s confident conversation
Here, Kuhnke describes Macron and Putin’s conversation: “Macron looks tested by Putin who is claiming his space by gesturing expansively, while his left-hand rests in the centre of his lap. Macron has a closed mouth grin while he avoids looking at Putin, and appears to be holding back a laugh or a comment.”
Kermode also comments on the smirk on Macron’s face, stating: “He appears to find the whole conversation slightly comic, while Putin tries to reign control. In their individual ways, both try to convey that they are taking the moral high ground. Both men have anchored themselves on the side of the chair to give them more stability and have pushed their chins slightly forward, in a sign of confidence, power and steel.”
Corbyn’s approachable appearance
In this public encounter, Kermode describes Corbyn: “He looks physically relaxed with his hands in his pockets. Although some leaders do this because they don’t know what to do with them or to try and look nonchalant, Corbyn, with his shoulders down and his neck relaxed, looks genuinely at ease. His chin is slightly self-conscious and aware of the image he’s creating but his smile seems genuine and relaxed, particularly compared to the tight smile of the candidate next to him.”
Kuhnke also adds: “Corbyn’s body language and dress are relaxed. His open collared shirt and jacket as well as his casually placed hand in his pocket make him appear approachable and sincere.”
Trump and May’s uncomfortable photo
This image shows Donald Trump and Theresa May posing for a photo together. Kermode comments: “If you looked at this picture from below the neck only, both leaders might look open and relaxed, opting for the open body stance, but their faces show their real feelings. The tension between them is palpable. Both their lip corners are held tightly and pulled downwards. Their smiles are not genuine, as they don’t reach the outer corners or their eyes. May’s head also seems to be pulling away from Trump causing a tightening on the left side of her neck.”
According to Dr Steve Priddy, academic dean at GISMA Business School, it’s easy to read an image on the screen, but there may be a lot more going on that meets the eye. “When it comes to world leaders, it’s easy for us to scrutinise the way in which they interact with each other but it’s interesting to find out what they really think about being in each other’s company,” he says.
“World leaders have to put on a confident and composed front but things aren’t always as they seem. The expert analysis has revealed that some leaders are definitely more approachable than others, and that some situations can leave them feeling as uncomfortable as less practised politicians or business people.”