Non-verbal Communication

Sam Thanapornsangsuth


Love it or hate it, presidential hopeful Donald Trump is certainly a unique individual, with his own personal style. He knows how to use body language to effectively convey his message, emotions and influence other people’s emotions. According to Dr. Ronald Riggio from Psychology Today, Trump commonly presents 10 non-verbal cues and the possible signals they may communicate to his audiences. Additionally, Prof. Geoff Beattie, author of Rethinking Body Language, told Euro News that Trump often employs unique body gestures by staying in place, and uses upper-body gestures and expressions to make his point. "This conveys a sense of power and control rather than a more collaborative approach." Trump knows what he’s doing. He knows how to make opponents look silly, how to communicate with the audience (even when he’s not speaking) and how to influence the audience’s emotions with one simple look. That’s the reason why he’s now the Republican presidential candidate and running for our president! Being able to aware of his commonly used body language will help us see what we can't hear in his verbal communication. Whether or not he tries to cover up things he doesn't know or assert power to us, understanding his non-verbal communication strategies will help us spot that!


Content is courtesy of Psychology Today and Euro News.

1. The OK

Gesture: The OK pinch between the thumb and forefinger

Meaning: Show precision and control.

Prof Beattie: “These batonic movements are stressing those bits of the message that he sees as important and we like politicians that do that. In some sense it’s showing commitment to what he’s saying but what he’s also doing is adding an extra layer of subconscious meaning.”

Alan Stevens: “He also makes use of random hand-waving to indicate that things have gone badly wrong before returning to close tight gestures to show that he can be trusted to deliver solution.”

2. The OK + L

Gesture: OK gesture pairs up with an alternating upward pointing L finger

Meaning: Prof Beattie: “Some people think he uses them interchangeably. I don’t think that’s the case. If you look at some of the structures he’s doing, he will use the precision gesture as a counterpoint to the pointing upwards one to accentuate the third part of the list. And that pointing upwards is a very unusual gesture. I’ve analysed politicians in the past and I can’t think of many who use it.”

Alan Stevens: “The closed loop and the L gesture both indicate ‘I’ve got this exactly right’. They suggest precision (the finger pointing upwards in the L) and a job done properly (the OK gesture). Both, and especially the latter, will be commonly used by his core supporters, creating another connection with them.”

3. The Point

Gesture: Agressive finger pointing

Meaning: Prof Beattie: “When he talks about Clinton sometimes, this pointing gesture then becomes a claw. It becomes almost like a character view point, iconic gesture for Clinton – he talks about her picking judges and this point is transmogrified into a claw selection thing. It’s almost like a witch’s claw.”

Alan Stevens: The point is normally avoided by speakers, since it can be seen as accusatory. However, Donald Trump, as the former host of “The Apprentice” has made the gesture his own, and uses it as a reminder that as president, he will have the control to “fire” people.”

4. The Open Palms

Gesture: Opening his palms while speaking

Meaning: Show openness gesture.

Prof Beattie: “The open palm is ‘look I’m an honest Joe’ but there are lots of examples of it when he’s talking about negative things happening. He’s saying ‘look, you the audience and I, we are in exactly the same boat.’ And he doesn’t do that verbally he does that non-verbally… Some critics of Trump rightly point out that he talks about himself quite a lot. And people have talked about his very high level of narcissism… But what is interesting, sometimes when he does that, he doesn’t contradict it – he compensates for it – by using these gestures to build a ‘we’ connection with the audience. He’s showing that his emotions and their emotions are aligned. So even though he’s talking about himself he’s still building that rapport, building those connections with his audience.”

Alan Stevens: “Open palms are usually an inclusive gesture, especially with the arms spread wide apart.”

5. The Wall

Gesture: “stay back” gesture with both hands close together and pushing at an imaginary wall

Meaning: Prof Beattie: “It’s fascinating when he puts his palms up… What he’s trying to do is show this immediate reaction to some of the threats the US is facing. Again you can see people think he is fully committed.”

Alan Stevens: “There’s a reminder of two of his main policies right there – the wall on the Mexican border, and the proposed ban on Muslim visitors.”