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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 14-Jan-09


Wednesday 14-January-09

Obama and the mouth clamp

Have you noticed Barack Obama's tendency to clamp his mouth shut, pressing his lips together, after he has completed a part of his speech? It's a relatively uncommon pattern that reader Barrie Singleton emailed me about recently.

It's a clear signal that 'I've finished'. It also signals topic closure and that the subject is not open to further discussion. It can also be accompanied by gazing (or even staring) around, as if to ensure the message has got through and signal that any challenge will be robustly met. A few seconds of silence reinforces this and the conversation can now move to the next topic.

I wonder if this is a natural part of Obama's approach or whether it is a conscious and perhaps coached pattern.

Barrie also noted that Margaret Thatcher tended to end sentences with a declining pitch. This is also a pattern of command that also forbids continuation. It's the opposite of the tone rising at the end, as in an inviting question.

Thatcher famously had coaching to lower the overall tone of her voice. As the first woman prime minister in what was mostly still a 'man's world', she adopted many male attributes and was certainly successful at dominating her cabinet.

Politicians are very aware of body language these days, but being aware and controlling it are two very different things. We have about 600 muscles in our body, with 90 in the face and 30 of these just for expressing emotion. No way you can control all these. This is good as it gives us normal people a chance to try and figure out what they are really thinking.

Your comments

The closest method to controlling body language is to be a method actor, speaker and live the role internally rather than delivering only the words. It is still a task requiring intense energy to sustain the role well enough to consistently control body language.

-- Gene

Dave replies:
Absolutely. I read somewhere that some people are naturally good liars and can seldom be detected. They literally believe themselves. Apparently they tend to end up either in acting or in sales...

Watch the new television show called "Lie to Me."

-- Arnold K

I have been watching Lie To Me and yes, it does show how to read peoples faces.

-- Mike

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