8 July 2009

Non-verbal communication and height

Charles Crawford's blog has alerted me to some intriguing news about image-management in Moscow, that looks as though it was a cunning plan to make President Obama (6'1'') look uncomfortable sitting in a very low chair alongside Prime Minister Putin (5'7").

As you can see from the picture I posted a few weeks ago, President Sarkozy certainly has no qualms about rising to the same height as President Obama, even if it does mean standing on a box.

But, though we may know less about what image-handlers get up to in Russia than in the West, it shouldn't be thought that it's anything new. I have newspaper clippings from the Reagan years with reports from Moscow that Gorbachev was having smiling lessons, presumably to compete with the cheerful countenance of the Great Communicator in Washington.

A while back, I expressed surprise that the Republicans had taken such a risk as to nominate a candidate (McCain) who is six inches shorter than Obama - because there's some research suggesting that the most powerful predictors of success in US politics are height (the taller the better) and a record of sporting achievement (the sportier the better).

I've also suggested that, at least since the television age began, baldness may be a disadvantage for male politicians.

So no one should think that, just because I think that some of the claims about the importance of body language have been grossly over-stated, I don't think it matters at all. But I do think there are some difficult methodological problems in being more precise about it, however much agreement there may be between Messrs Putin and Sarkozy on the question of height.

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