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Body Language expert Patti Wood analyzes tape of
Condit/Chung interview, at CBS Radio News' request

Body 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.

We read body language in the right hemisphere where our emotions and basic instincts
reside. When your gut tells you that someone makes you uncomfortable, it's because you
are subconsciously reading and processing something untrustworthy in the person's
nonverbal communication. Honesty is communicated through a spontaneous and natural flow
of cues and vocal variation. Condit gave mainly robotic rehearsed responses, keeping his
upper body still and stiff.

 We can control a certain amount of our body language, but there are those up-to-10,000
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.

Body 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.

In 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.

To 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.

The 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.

Another possible indicator of his unwillingness to be forthcoming is that he asked for a
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 him. The
American public wanted to see Condit embarrassed, nervous and apologetic. They got something very different.

Granting 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.

Why 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. Yet he
appeared so threatened by Connie Chung, I wonder what he would have done if he'd had to
deal with a male interviewer?

Particularly 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 the effect
of "for the sake of my family and the Levy family, I will keep that private." 

One 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.

In 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 interview.

Politicians 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
the ready.

Typically, that makes it more difficult for us to read him. In this case, I believe it worked
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."

You may have noticed that the chairs where unusually close. This would tend to create one
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."

What 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.

One 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.

The 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.

Then he also licked his lips. When you are nervous, your mouth becomes dry and you lick
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.

The most disconcerting body language cue occurred when he stuck out his tongue. The
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 came
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 aggression.

Now, 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.

Later 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.

The 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.

Reading 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   [email protected]    ExpertMagazine.com 2001  

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