Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hand to the Chief? Candidates Gestures Vary Greatly

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Hand to the Chief? Candidates Gestures Vary Greatly

Article excerpt

Long before the size of his hands - or anyone else's for that matter - were an actual topic during a Republican Party presidential primary debate, before he asked Michigan rally attendees to raise their hands and swear an oath that made many observers uneasy, back when he was merely a bombastic reality television host and not seeking the most powerful office in the world, Donald Trump had a go-to hand gesticulation: The Cobra.

Those on the business end of the gesture - all five finger tips clinched together, coming forward like a snake's head striking - were about to hear the two words - "You're Fired" - that ended an appearance on Mr. Trump's NBC reality show.

That bit of manual flair quite literally punctuated the weekly drama of "The Apprentice." In retrospect, it perhaps served as a harbinger for the same kind of television-ready campaign antics that made many question the initial sincerity of his pursuit to be the nation's commander in chief.

However, Eric Oliver takes a different read on Mr. Trump's iconoclastic expression.

"He believes what he says - at least he does when he's saying it."

An expert in neurolinguistic programming, which he said is like an "alphabet for nonverbal communication," Mr. Oliver runs the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based consulting business MetaSystems. For the past 36 years he's taught trial lawyers how to use nonverbal cues and body language to their advantage in the courtroom.

Reached by phone at a conference in Providence, R.I., Mr. Oliver said that when Mr. Trump speaks, he engages in what he calls "congruent behavior" meaning that his body language, his mind and his words line up. He noted that Mr. Trump will frequently touch or point to his own chest when thundering away at a lectern.

"The more often you do that, most of the time he believes what he's saying, at least when he says it. He might feel something else later, but he believes it then," Mr. Oliver said. "But that's a common technique for a lot of salespeople. It's nothing special or unusual about this guy."

Conversely, Mr. Oliver says that Mr. Trump's chief rival for the nomination, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is "never congruent."

"If you were to catalog who has more variety, he's the one who covers the most territory. He'll do lockstep motions, like a pounding fist, but also cross-body movements," Mr. Oliver said, adding that what "makes [Mr. Cruz's] deadpan face so incongruent."

Mr. Oliver said that in debates, that doesn't mean that Mr. Cruz doesn't believe what he's saying, but rather that he may be answering one question, but internally he is thinking of follow-up questions, answers or responses from moderators or opponents.

"That's called downside planning. It's a trait a lot of lawyers have."

McKees Rocks native and Ohio Gov. John Kasich rates as fairly congruent.

"He's the most laid back. He's not making any violent or punctuating gestures. He's got a demeanor as the regular guy in the room, and his gestures reflect that. …

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