When Joe Navarro looks at Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, he sees much more than just the Republican and Democratic nominees for president.
He sees a near-complete picture of what the two candidates are likely thinking, feeling, and trying to communicate to their audience based solely on their facial expressions and body language.
Navarro, who spent 25 years as an FBI special agent and wrote the bestseller “What Every Body Is Saying,” might even know more than the candidates know about themselves.
Both Trump and Clinton have specific tells, he says.
Navarro explains that Hillary stays stoic most of the time, but tends to let her voice rise a full octave when upset or energised. According to a large body of research on speech preferences, both men and women generally like their leaders (male or female) to have deeper, more sonorous voices.
“This is a problem Margaret Thatcher had to deal with for years, until she finally got some training to lower her voice,” Navarro tells Business Insider.
Indeed, the former British prime minister spent several years toward the end of the 1970s working with a speech coach at the Royal National Theatre. She learned how to change her pitch effectively, take the proper pauses, and speak in a lower register to command attention.
Navarro adds that Clinton doesn’t seem “very schooled in body language itself.” He’d prefer to see her make more broad, sweeping gestures — the kinds that convey confidence and power — as opposed to more precise gestures that tighten up the hands and might convey weakness.
But where Clinton may seem too reserved and tense, at the other end of the spectrum is Trump, whose fast and loose gestures make him an open book, Navarro says.
“Most politicians are pretty good at hiding how they feel about things,” he explains, but with Trump you immediately see signs of discontent: pursed lips, which he often pulls to the side, and tensed jaw muscles. “He says he’s a good negotiator, but actually that’s one of the worst things you can do is to reveal how you feel about anything.”
Trump could also stand to work on his hand gestures, according to Navarro. Like Hillary, he also uses precise gestures to make his point, though his sometimes look like an “A-OK” sign.
Trump often repeats his bigger gestures to the point of caricature. One of Navarro’s favourites — a sign of apparent confusion or indignation — involves shooting his arms forward with his elbows pinned at his sides.
This gesture is benign when only done every so often, Navarro says. But if it’s repeated at every nationally televised event, it starts to give the impression Trump isn’t in control, that he would rather express indignation than try to work through a problem head-on.
But Trump’s behaviour also reveals his confidence as a leader, which Navarro says has added to his appeal. He speaks with charged language and isn’t afraid to offend his opponents. While one side may take that aggression as a character flaw, another may see it as a positive display of dominance.
“That’s often what we like in leaders,” he says. “They don’t yield, they don’t bend, and they will dominate their space.”
Your own interpretation of Trump’s body language may simply come down to what you think the candidate should be promoting: strategic diplomacy or war on the status quo.