Body Language Analysis №4046: Melania Trump, Hurricane Harvey, and “Destroying Empathy 101” — Nonverbal and Emotional Intelligence (VIDEO, PHOTOS)
Yesterday, President Trump and The First Lady visited Austin and Corpus Christi to meet with Governor Abbott, other local leaders, first responders, etc. — and to offer their support for the those suffering in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Melania Trump took a lot of internet heat for departing the White House in six-inch heels — although, perhaps getting wind of this popular opinion, she changed into sneakers on Air Force One.
We can make the argument that the primary reason the President and the FLOTUS (a title which does not require the wearing of a written label), visited Texas was to be the national face of empathy.
There are are a myriad of ways to express and engender empathy. Yet, when in the context of nonverbal communication, the behavior which is the most crucial for displaying empathy is eye contact — a subject which itself has many branches of nuance. And yet there can be no true eye contact if sunglasses are worn. Aside from the very practical aspect of south Texas having 100% overcast skies of late — wearing sunglasses is deliberately distancing.
When on camera, being interviewed, or even if simply in view — wearing sunglasses, particularly when in such a highly visible leadership position — is a nonverbal double standard. It screams, “I get to look into your eyes (and your soul), but I’ll keep mine under wraps — thank you very much.” Using this deliberate barrier is a nonverbal manifestation of contempt. It elevates the wearer and lowers everyone else.
With the exception of a funeral or similar ceremonies, in the context of others’ suffering, wearing sunglasses is emotionally cold. It’s snooty. It’s aloof. It’s rapport destroying. A leader should be open, inviting, sincere — and yes, projecting empathy. Transmitting empathy without the use of one’s eyes is profoundly difficult and always incomplete. This is not about style. This is not about fashion. This is about people. And if you want to tell a person (or a nation), “I care about you and your suffering” — do NOT wear sunglasses (even if it’s sunny).
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.