Just as with any meeting between two alpha males of any species, the issue of dominance came through in the body language as President Donald Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
“If Trump wanted to show friendliness but superior status, I have to say he nailed it this time,” body language expert Judi James said Friday in analyzing Trump’s handshake with Putin.
Putin and Trump handshake + Trump pats him on the back pic.twitter.com/FZQUh3XrA3
— Daniella Diaz (@DaniellaMicaela) July 7, 2017
“If this shake were a prize fight, and it nearly was, I would have awarded a points victory to Trump,” James said, adding that “as Putin raised an almost wary-looking hand for the shake, Trump leaned forward with an outstretched arm and offered his hand palm-up. This is an infamous power-trap and Putin had no option but to put his hand into the clamp.”
James said the two men vied for control.
“Once there, he suffered an underarm-patting from Trump that made him look like the dominant leader, so much so that Putin responded with a pointed finger, which is the body language equivalent of drawing a weapon,” she said.
But Trump remained in control, she said.
“Trump looked far more at ease here and the pose ended with Putin standing with his hands folded on the table while Trump continued to lean across the gap and pat him on the back,” she said.
Other analysts believe Trump was very conscious of his actions.
“Most of the time, he’s got this warm welcome, he smiles, he comes right up to [people], he’s in their space,” said Lillian Glass, a Los Angeles-based communication and body-language expert. But Glass said that was not the case with Trump on Friday.
“You see Trump is very guarded. He doesn’t put all smiles out, and he doesn’t lean in to Putin — he leans away,” she said.
Glass said Trump was acting with an eye to domestic politics.
“From what was swirling around, he doesn’t want to give Americans the wrong impression, and he doesn’t want to give the world the wrong impression,” she said. “He doesn’t want to appear chummy.”
When the leaders moved on to their meeting, Trump remained dominant during the photo op that preceded their private session, said body language expert Mary Civiello.
“(Trump) leans forward with his arms on his knees, very much kind of a macho move. And then if you’ll notice his hands were kind of in a steeple position,” she said. “Whereas if you go back with Putin, at one point (he’s) kinda ringing one finger then ringing another finger. Again, this looks like an unsure or nervous body position.”
Civiello also said Trump’s eye contact with Putin was obvious.
“When Trump talks or addresses the crowd, complete eye contact. When he looked over at Putin, eye contact with him,” Civiello said.
“Putin, on the other hand, not great eye contact at all, looking down most of the time, and then glancing up at the end,” she said. “It gives us the feeling that he either doesn’t really want to be there, perhaps he is nervous or sees this as kinda useless, and he can’t wait to get in the back room.”
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