Body Language Analysis 3962: James Comey’s Testimony — Nonverbal and Emotional Intelligence (VIDEO, PHOTOS)
The day of James Comey’s long-awaited testimony finally arrived today. From a nonverbal communication perspective, one (of many) quality teaching moments occurred as Senator Mark Warner was questioning the former FBI Director.
What follows is a portion of their dialogue along with a partial body language analysis.
WARNER (continuing at 52:00): “Now, you’ve had extensive experience at the Department of Justice and at the FBI. You’ve worked under presidents of both parties. What was it about that meeting that led you to determine that you needed to start putting down a written record?”
COMEY: “A combination of things, I think — the circumstances, the subject matter and the person I was interacting with.
Circumstances first: I was alone, ah, with the president of the United States — or the president-elect, soon to be president.
The subject matter: I was talking about matters that touch on the FBI’s core responsibility and that relate to the president — president-elect personally.
And then the nature of the person: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document.
That combination of things, I’d never experienced before, but it led me to believe I’ve got to write it down, and I’ve got to write it down in a very detailed way.”
Beginning at 52:40 until 52:45 as Mr. Comey said, “And then the nature of the person — I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting…”, Comey displayed an extended “Self-Righteous Head Wiggle” (SRHW).
The Self-Righteous Head Wiggle is a side-to-side moving of the head and neck — sometimes there’s also a similar accompanying motion of the torso — or even the jaw (mandible). It can vary in duration — on occasion being extremely brief — ergo, a microexpression or near-microexpression — and at other times it’s of longer duration. The amplitude and frequency also vary (In this example, Comey’s SRHW lasts for about 5 seconds and is of relatively high frequency but low amplitude).
The Self-Righteous Head Wiggle is displayed during moments when the person is feeling high alpha emotions — and particularly high confidence when expressing such strong feelings (thus it’s also on occasion referred to as a “High-Confidence Head Wiggle”). There is sometimes an element of accompanying swagger or smugness (although this component is not present here in Comey’s display).
On occasion, the SRHW may also be coincident with an additional forward motion during moments when simultaneous arrogance is present. It can also have an accompanying backward motion — when contempt, disgust, and/or disbelief are being felt. However, neither of these variables (or feelings) are present in this segment.
Yet, an additional overlying movement which is seen here — is a repeated shoulder-shrug. In this context, a shrug indicates the thought emotions of: “What choice did I have?” or “What else could I do?”
These nonverbal displays are not able to be captured with still images. Please watch the video several times to appreciate the subtleties of these dynamic nonverbal signals.
Another co-existing expression is seen during 52:42, just after Comey says, “person” — he displays a classic expression of regret (image below).
Summary: James Comey’s nonverbal displays during this testimony are indicative of both high confidence and high sincerity. There is no deception present.
This post and the associated website serve as reference sources for the art and science of Body Language/Nonverbal Communication. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author. In an effort to be both practical and academic, many examples from/of varied cultures, politicians, professional athletes, legal cases, public figures, etc., are cited in order to teach and illustrate both the interpretation of others’ body language as well as the projection of one’s own nonverbal skills in many different contexts — not to advance any political, religious or other agenda.