Ignatieff comes across as contemptuous

FAITH WOOD/Guest Columnist

There’s a lot to be learned from non-verbal communication. Politicians are usually experts at controlling how emotions play out on their faces. (Admit it, they need to be.)

While micro gestures – mouth, eyebrows – are good indicators of a candidate’s inner thoughts and unconscious attitudes, they are only seen in a flash, and then they’re gone. However, there are other non-verbal indications of what’s really going through that person’s mind.

One caution: body language must be read in context. Keep in mind where the candidate is speaking: Is it to a raft of reporters or in a large lecture theatre, where he/she has to look up to see the audience? Is this a one-on-one interview, in which the candidate is trying to look like the guy next door (or perhaps a parental figure who can and should be trusted about absolutely everything)?

Aloof and contemptuous

With that in mind, let’s look at Michael Ignatieff.

Ignatieff often comes across as aloof and contemptuous. He tries to smile, but his eyebrows betray him. He tries to appear sincere, yet his body says anything but. He says, “Yes,” while shaking his head “No.” (Check out his ad at: http://youtu.be/qBFGRR9Vu7A.) In interviews (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jw7jT938pi0)

Ignatieff uses aggressive hand movements. He clenches his fists; he points; his hands are up, palm facing the interviewer. In a speech to caucus, he doesn’t appear to make eye contact with others, he uses his fists to make a point, he is slightly slouched and he grasps the podium tightly (tension?). “I am the only person for the job and if you can’t figure that out, you’re an idiot. As a matter of fact, everyone else is an idiot, so why do I even bother?” he appears to be saying.

During the April 12 candidates debate (http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canadavotes2011/leaders-debate/), Ignatieff was truly ‘Mr. Superiority’, looking and moving as if he was somehow more entitled than anyone else in the room (in the country? In the world?). All his usual movements came into play: constant frowns, sneers out of the side of his mouth, clenched fists, chopping motions and beaking with his hands (“Just stop talking and recognize that I am the only with the answers.”) His rapid blinking showed irritation and he waved away all comments from his fellow debaters, as if to say, “They know nothing and therefore are not a useful investment of my time.”

He leaned on the podium (he no doubt hoped to appear casual, but actually came across as unnatural), with a defensive lean toward Stephen Harper. He also dropped his body in a downward posture when he said, “We need to stand up …”

Although this all sounds like Ignatieff is doing nothing right, there are some positive attributes of his public appearances. Most of the time, he does stand straight, with head held high (albeit occasionally with dropped shoulder, indicating the direction of the exit).

Can be open and sincere

At the Liberal campaign kickoff ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNwqyzigIDI), he appeared loose and relaxed, using open hand gestures. He can be open and sincere at times during interviews, especially one-on-ones, with hands wide apart and upward-facing (showing honesty and sincerity).

During the debate, he had a solid assertive stance when speaking into the camera (that is, to the public, for whom he gave the occasional sincere smile). He frequently steepled his hands, a confidence gesture which is the sign of someone who believes in himself and his knowledge (as if that wasn’t readily apparent by now).

Taking everything into account, though, one is left with the ultimate question: Would you buy a used car from this man?

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