Body language expert Dr. Nick Morgan thinks U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a “classic” alpha male problem during their conversation Friday.
Morgan evaluated the very brief video of the 10 to 15 minute encounter that was released by the French government for Business Insider. Though he cautioned the clip was too short to glean substantial amounts of information, Morgan gave us some insight into this short window into the action between the two world leaders. Overall, he said Putin appeared to be rejecting a proposal from Obama.
“You can’t tell much from a clip that short, that’s the caveat. … Nonetheless, it’s fun to speculate a little bit,” Morgan said. “All of that said, to me, it looks like Obama is making a request of Putin and he is saying, ‘No, I can’t do that.'”
In addition to the short length of the clip, Morgan said the fact it is unclear at what moment in the conversation the footage was filmed makes it hard to make any determinations from the video. Morgan also noted that, if Obama was indeed making a request at the moment the clip was filmed, it’s impossible to know what exactly he was asking.
“It could be, ‘Do you want to have dinner tonight?’ We just don’t know,” Morgan explained.
In spite of how many unanswered questions there are about the video, overall, Morgan said Putin seemed to be more “nervous” than Obama.
“Of the two of them, Putin is the more agitated,” said Morgan. “He looks nervous, Obama looks cooler.”
However, Morgan also noted Obama generally seems “cool” in his interactions.
“Obama is a cool dude. He’s always cool,” Morgan said.
According to Morgan, the fact there was “more movement” from Putin than Obama led him to believe the Russian leader was more “agitated” than his American counterpart. Morgan noted Putin could be seen “rubbing his nose” at one point and “shaking his head” while Obama remained relatively still.
“The more powerful person tends to hold still and the less powerful people come to them,” said Morgan. “It looks to me like Obama made Putin come to him.”
Morgan also said it appeared as though Putin was using a “classic” strategy during the interaction.
“It looks like Putin is handling the classic male leader to male leader problem in an amusing way, which is that he’s putting his hands at his side and sticking his elbow out,” Morgan said. “That’s what do you do when you’re two alpha males and one is taller.”
Since Obama is, as Morgan put it, “at least a head taller” than Putin, the Russian president would have wanted to spread out.
“What the alpha male wants to do is take up the most space and Putin is most certainly an alpha male,” said Morgan. “You can’t take up vertical space, so you want to take up space horizontally.”
Morgan cited another diminutive leader, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who he said was “famous” among body language experts for trying to adopt a wide stance in his interactions with others.
According to the White House, Obama and Putin discussed potential plans to decrease tensions surrounding the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Since he suspected Putin was rejecting Obama during the moment captured on film, Morgan said he hoped it wasn’t a serious portion of their conversation.
“If I had to guess from this, Obama is making an ask, Putin’s saying no,” Morgan said. “Let’s hope he’s saying, ‘I can’t get you borscht for dinner,’ not, ‘No, I can’t make peace in the world.”
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