Crossed arms mean more than one thing and so does leaning on a desk. It seems every amateur “Body Language Expert” has come out of the woodwork to let the world know what they think the Body Language of “crossed arms” means.
So that’s what I’m gonna do. And most probably won’t agree with me. However, I call ’em like I see ’em, be ye friend, foe, guilty, innocent, adult, or child, you name it. Let’s break this photo down and get another perspective on what might be happening here.
Though most of those decoding this photo focus on the arms, they don’t have much to say about facial expressions and other important cues. I’ll come back to that.
The most important thing to keep in mind about this photo is the fact it is a tiny sliver of time, captured for everyone to look at, dissect, and have an opinion about. It doesn’t tell us what happened just before or right after the photo was snapped. Hence the reason for this being such a powerful and potent image.
First, let’s take a look at Angela Merkel. She’s not taking a position of anger nor authority. Observe her hands. Don’t just look at them OBSERVE THEM. They’re flat on the table. (They are on top of a sheet of paper. I’ll come back to that.) Her fingers have little or no space between them. Most of the time that does not indicate someone who is attempting to show dominance. And I certainly don’t think it suggests it here.
Hands flat on a table like hers quite often denote a position of comfort. Little or no space between the fingers can indicate subjugation in situations similar to this one. Or simply relaxation in others. She’s leaning in, not making a “stance”. Her shoulders, as high as they are, suggest she is comfortable as well. No stress or tension here.
There’s a psychological component to her positioning. Her leaning position, her facial expression, arms, hands, and torso all suggest she is comfortable and leaning in to be close to President Trump.
Now let’s take a look at Emmanuel Macron. You can’t see much. His eyebrows are up, his mouth is open, he is leaning in and it looks like he’s the person speaking and is the focus of President Trump’s attention. His facial expression, from this angle anyway, doesn’t suggest anger, frustration, or even being flustered. It’s one you see often when someone is relaying information as you listen. (His hand is positioned on top of a piece of paper. I’ll come back to that.)
Now let’s move our focus to President Trump. His arms are crossed. Crossed arms is a quite common and normal behavior for him. In fact, if you Google “President Trump Crossed Arms” you’ll see more photos of him with crossed arms in different times, situations, and scenarios than you’ll care to count.
President Tump’s facial expression doesn’t denote he is angry, frustrated, flustered, or agitated. That expression is one suggesting he is listening. Listening to Emmanuel Macron, not Angela Merkel.
EVERY person in the photo appears to be relaxed. There are no signs of distress, anger, frustration, or agitation.
Below, let’s take a look at some photos taken within the same few minutes, before and after, the one you’ve been seeing everywhere.
Notice Angela Merkel is leaned on the table, reading the paper under her hand. Notice she is smiling and listening to President Trump. Observe her reading the piece of paper she is holding down on the table.
Now do the same for Macron. Now for every other person in the photo. The mood in the room in every other photo is light, focused, at times humorous, and at times showing admiration for each other.
This is a powerful lesson showing how information loosed on the world by uneducated amateur “experts” of Body Language is quite common and can give you more bad information than good. (I go into detail about this in my TEDx Talk “How To Kill Your Body Language Frankenstein and Inspire The Villagers“).