Those interested in the study of body language had a fascinating opportunity this week to study two completely different approaches to power through non-verbal communication: the Pope and Donald Trump. The Pope, as all the world must know, was visiting the US for the first time, and Mr. Trump was all over the media, as per usual, but on “60 Minutes” for the first time on Sunday.
Trump, of course, has been dominating the political discourse – if you can call it that – in the United States all summer long and now into the fall. The Pope makes news wherever he goes. Both are examples of alpha males in very different circumstances and roles – but what about their body language? Is it the same, or does it differ?
Let’s take Mr. Trump first. He effortlessly dominated the “60 Minutes” reporter in front of him by controlling the space between them. To watch Mr. Trump in action is to watch the classic alpha male in sales mode, taking charge of the conversation and the human interaction despite the best efforts of the reporter to keep up.
Trump leans in, reaching out with his hands. In contrast, the reporter is at the back of his chair, leaning back, with his hands in front of his face, desperately trying to keep control of the space that Trump has already won. Trump’s hand gestures are also open – which is why America has taken to him. His body language is saying, “I’m not hiding anything. What you see is what you get.”
Trump’s feet are outside of the reporter’s, so that his stance wraps around the other man’s – putting Trump completely in control.
Trump is nodding, and his voice is authoritative. Not for him the uptick so many less confident people use. He’s all authority, so that his voice sounds resonant and assured.
On body language alone, it’s Trump 1, reporter 0. What about the Pope?
Where Mr. Trump dominates space, the Pope dominates space and time. It’s a completely different approach. And it’s even more authoritative in the end.
Of course, the vestments and setting of the ceremonial side of the Pope’s job are meant to increase his authority. He’s raised up, set back, and surrounded with gold, frankincense and myrrh, at least figuratively speaking.
Beyond that, however, notice how little the Pope moves. He has no need to crowd other people’s space, like Mr. Trump, because in the end he’s not really selling anything. He makes people come to him. And he slows time down, by speaking slowly and deliberately, slowing down the pace of the interaction, making others come to him and wait for him.
Like monarchy, the Pope gestures minimally, holding his body still, slowing down the tempo of his communications. The effect is to make people move into his orbit, again waiting on him. It’s a different kind of control, one that ultimately means that anyone who seeks to interact with him must do so on his terms.
You could presumably fight back with Mr. Trump, attempting to control space as aggressively as he does. But you can’t duke it out with the Pope, because, by slowing down the interaction, he makes time his own. All you can do is wait.
Two different approaches to power. Two very different kinds of power – the power of the salesman and the power of the statesman. And two completely different kinds of body language. There’s no question which is the more powerful in the end.