Body Language expert Patti Wood analyzes tape of
at CBS Radio News' request
language is the way the subconscious mind speaks. In his interview with
Connie Chung on ABC's "Primetime," what Congressman Gary Condit
said with his body language seemed
to make all of us uncomfortable. Watching him made me squirm and want to
change the channel.
read body language in the right hemisphere where our emotions and basic
reside. When your gut tells you that someone makes you uncomfortable, it's
are subconsciously reading and processing something untrustworthy in the
nonverbal communication. Honesty is communicated through a spontaneous and
of cues and vocal variation. Condit gave mainly robotic rehearsed responses,
upper body still and stiff.
can control a certain amount of our body language, but there are those
body language cues packed in every minute of interaction that we give out
and read subconsciously. Whatever he thought he could keep private,
Conduit's nonverbal communication spoke volumes. His eyes, head, voice and
hands leaked out cues of
deception and aggression.
language cues are undeniable although the underlying motivation and the
interpretation can vary. I base my interpretations not just on isolated cues
but on what parts of the body
are involved, the timing of the cues, the number of times they are repeated
and the rhetorical context in which they are given.
addition, I look for rhetorical cues of deception such as the lack of
contractions, the use
of depersonalization words, such as "anyone" and "we,"
and the use of the past tense to discuss a person not declared deceased.
Omitted words can also provide unintended clues
to listeners. Although several
times in the interview with Chung, Condit said he had answered all the
questions asked by law enforcement and had given them all the details they
asked for, he never said he answered honestly nor immediately.
begin with, I was interested in the fact that the congressman waited 115
days for an interview with the media. Delay is a tactic of someone with
something to hide. As you might
suspect, your body language as you recall an event changes. It typically
softens and is more easily manipulated.
media has told us it took him 67 days to tell law enforcement he was having
an affair with Chandra Levy. A person who does not want to hide information
and is truly concerned with someone else's safety would not have delayed
that potentially crucial information. Timing
often acts as a nonverbal communicator as much as body language does.
possible indicator of his unwillingness to be forthcoming is that he asked
half-hour interview rather than the standard full-hour interview. The
shorter the interview, the easier it is to maintain a fixed, rehearsed
composure. This worked against
American public wanted to see Condit embarrassed, nervous and apologetic.
They got something very different.
a half-hour interview may have been strategic for another reason: a shorter
interview doesn't allow a base line. In
other words, the interviewer would not have time to ask easy, innocuous
questions so the viewers could see his body language when he wasn't under
stress and compare it to his responses under stress.
did Condit specifically approach Connie Chung, a woman to be his
interviewer? One reason may be that most men feel less threatened and give
off less aggressive body
language cues with an assertive woman than with an equally assertive man.
appeared so threatened by Connie Chung, I wonder what he would have done if
he'd had to
deal with a male interviewer?
fascinating is the fact that Condit chose not to answer repeated questions
about whether or not he had an affair with Chandra Levy. I believe he was
coached to refuse to
answer these questions because his response was always the same-something to
of "for the sake of my family and the Levy family, I will keep that
nonverbal effect of this refusal was that it could justify the
"withholding" body language cues that he was giving to the
audience. His refusal not only justified his behavior, it could
have actually changed his behavior. When you believe what you're saying is
right and justifiable, your body language reflects that belief. In law
enforcement this is referred to as "believing your own lies," and
can sometimes allow someone who is not telling the truth to pass a polygraph
test because they become emotionally attached to some aspect of the
story which is not a complete falsehood.
Condit's case, his refusal allowed him to act in a righteous manner, which
is ironic in light
of the fact that the Levy family lawyer said they had asked the congressman
to answer questions forthrightly and honestly. The Levy family obviously
wants to know the details,
which he said they didn't want to know-a lie he repeated throughout the
are often labeled by those who read deception cues as "practiced or
rehearsed" liars. They may regularly withhold information. In the
congressman's case, he may have lied
for years about multiple affairs. In addition, politicians are coached on
their behavior and responses. Obviously, Condit was heavily coached and had
several rehearsed responses at
that makes it more difficult for us to read him. In this case, I believe it
against him. During the first half he was able to keep his upper body stiff,
his face blank (with one repeated exception) and not blink very often
because lawyers know when you move, you give out cues. As I have said, the
lack of movement and the overt stiffness spoke strongly. They said," If
I move at all, I will give myself away."
may have noticed that the chairs where unusually close. This would tend to
of two very different responses in the interviewee either comfort or
discomfort. In the United States we reserve that zero to sixteen inches of
space for intimate friends and family or for attacking. This physical
closeness can create intimacy, demonstrating closeness and trust,
or it can indicate fear and aggression, as in, "get out of my space or
I will attack."
about his tight smile? A smile is the most common facial expression to mask
emotions. It is often used to mask displeasure and anger. A real smile
changes the entire
face. The eyes light up. The forehead wrinkles, the eyebrows and cheek
muscles rise, skin around the eyes and mouth crinkles and finally the mouth
turns up. Condit's smile barely moved the corners of his mouth. The rest of
his face was as frozen as a mask.
of the particularly odd cues he displayed throughout the interview was the
"head tilt." Normally this is a signal of vulnerability, a bearing
of the neck. We also use it when we are listening, so it comes and goes with
the flow of the conversation. Condit's held it the entire interview! He may
have been coached to do the head tilt in order to look innocent. However,
he did not appear natural or relaxed. Because he froze the movement, it lost
its true effect.
glaring exception to his inexpressive face was his mouth.
He kept his lips tightly
closed during most of the interview, which typically we interpret as
symbolically withholding information. Sometimes people get tight-lipped when
they have to answer a difficult question, and they are trying to think of a
response. However, Condit did it while Connie Chung was talking and asking
questions, long before the pause after she was finished.
he also licked his lips. When you are nervous, your mouth becomes dry and
your lips and swallow as you struggle to find the right words to say. The
timing and manner
in which Condit licked his lips broadens its meaning. He repeatedly used a
sweeping motion, symbolically sweeping away what was being said as Connie
Chung was talking, as she brought up the difficult questions. Perhaps he is
sweeping away his discomfort, sweeping
away the lies.
most disconcerting body language cue occurred when he stuck out his tongue.
tongue thrust can be a sign of deceit and of aggression. The media has told
us that Gary Condit has a temper. Sticking
out his tongue was an indication early in the interview that he was trying
to suppress it. However controlled the rest of his body appeared, his anger
out more than once with this cue. In all my years of reading body language,
this is the first
time I have seen this cue repeated so often in such a short time period. And
I rarely see it in
a planned interview.
Condit pursed his lips and sucked
them inward more than 14 times.
This indicates extreme anxiety, withholding information and withholding
I will say that early in the interview, his body language matched the verbal
content of his responses. That is, he nodded as he said "yes" and
so forth. Typically, unrehearsed liars will have discordant body
language. They will say one thing with their words and another with their
voice or their timing will be off. His timing wasn't off but almost all of
his verbal responses seemed rehearsed or scripted so he could have rehearsed
his body language as well.
in the interview, he began to send Connie several aggression signals. They
were more apparent because he kept his hands folded in his lap in the
beginning. But as Connie pressed him, he raised his palms up and pushed her
away. Open palms in general are
a sign of truth telling but pushed forward they are protective or
aggressive. Because he followed them with finger pointing, fingers flung
outward toward Connie and what is called a steeple or cannon toward her,
(hands folded in front with forefingers creating a point), which is a potent
sign of aggression, his hand movements could easily be interpreted as
aggressive. This combination
of overt signals of aggression is unusual in an interview, especially an
interview with a
politician, which he requested. It's
a pretty clear indication of repressed anger.
set of cues that were most worrisome came after a question late in the game.
Connie Chung asked him if he knew what had happened to Chandra Levy. He
answered, "I have no idea." Then he pursed his lips, licked his
lips and stuck out his tongue an unusually potent string of cues-showing a
combination of deception and aggression.
Condit's body language and other nonverbal cues won't tell us what he is
hiding or what he is so angry about, but the nonverbal message is loud and
clear: this man is angry
and he is hiding something.
Patti Wood, MA, CSP, is a recognized expert on body
language, a professional speaker and author. With a master's degree and
doctoral coursework in the topic, she has delivered courses and workshops on
body language and interpersonal & organizational communications to
corporations, associations, government agencies and universities for more
than two decades. For information on Patti’s programs or booking
information call 352-438-0261 or email
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