Psychologists say more communication takes place non-verbally than verbally.
Consider, for example, Barack Obama’s body language. Probably more than anyone I’ve ever seen, he literally looks down his nose as he speaks. He physically lifts his chin and looks down his nose at his audience or the camera. It’s not something he does on all occasions. It’s most noticeable during commencement speeches and similar events.
“Looks down his nose” is a phrase everyone understands. It’s as familiar as “hang dog,” “chin on chest,” or “spring in his step.” Thefreedictionary.com defines “looking down your nose” as follows: “To think that someone is less important than you or that something is not good enough for you.” Many of us feel that is exactly what Barak Obama feels about us.
We use such expressions to convey not just physical behavior, but to also to describe attitudes. They are used more to describe what’s going on inside a person than outside. Usually the two are the same. A person whose chin is on his chest is probably not feeling very positive.
Looking down your nose is not a behavior or attitude that helps you win friends and influence people. In fact, it is an offensive and insulting. Frankly, however, I’m glad he does it. One way or another, I want more people to see who and what he is. In this way, at least, he’s delivering on his “transparency” pledge.
Even when Mr. Obama communicates with words there seems to be more between the lines than in the words themselves. Often the words and what he is really thinking seem to be exact opposites.
Some of his statements tend to elicit this reaction — why are you telling me this? Or, why do you feel it’s necessary to point this out? Recall, for example, his claim, “I am not an ideologue.” It is reminiscent of Emerson’s famous quote, “The louder he spoke of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.” If you have to say it, maybe it’s because it isn’t so.
Mr. Obama loves to talk tough. He likes to make threats, demands, and promises. However, as Mary Matalin has observed, “Obama talks like John Wayne but acts like Peewee Herman.” He has inverted Teddy Roosevelt’s policy of “speak softly and carry a big stick.” The article about his recent comment, “I want to know whose ass to kick,” was headlined in our local paper, “Is Obama getting really, really mad?”
Mr. Obama’s advisors have probably suggested to him not to look down his nose. Recently several sympathetic commentators have advised him to show more emotion in his reaction to the Gulf oil spill. Showing emotion is another important form of non-verbal communication. Mr. Obama is who he is, however. He probably couldn’t change even if he thought he needed to, which I doubt he does.
Even if messages were put on Mr. Obama’s teleprompter I doubt he could pull it off. His teleprompter could say, “Show passion now,” or “Be angry here,” and it still wouldn’t happen. He is a cold fish, not a cool dude. He shows no passion because he has none to show. He could try to fake it, but he has no acting ability.
Mr. Obama’s general behavior reminds me of an observation I heard when I was young, although I don’t recall the specific reference — “If you could buy him for what he’s worth, and sell him for what he thinks he’s worth, you could make a lot of money.”