Herman Cain is a savvy communicator. He has mastered the techniques of a professional speaker. When he addresses a group, he angles his head and body slightly to the left, then he turns to the right, then straight ahead toward the podium, careful to embrace the whole audience and give a sense of speaking directly to you.
But no matter how experienced and comfortable Cain is in the spotlight, he can’t control his involuntary body language and micro-expressions that tell a silent story that can be at odds with his words.
As a body language and deception detection expert, I call my business, Susan Constantine Silent Messages,” because that’s what your body communicates all the time.
Cain’s speech responding to allegations of sexual harassment makes a good case study. Take a look:
- One press photo of Cain’s speech shows his lips are taut and pulled in, his mouth horizontal, his eyebrows furrowed – these are classic markers of anger. You have to consider why he is angry. Is it because he’s being accused of something he didn’t do, or is it because his moral conduct is being questioned?
- Cain’s choice of the word “reject” – saying he rejects the allegations against him – and his stumbling over the word “reject” is telling. You could see his mouth moving, looking for the right word. He needs to say clearly that he didn’t do it. But the selection of the ambiguous word “reject” suggests that he has an internal conflict which left him unable to find the correct word. “Reject” just doesn’t cut it. This is an example of someone being betrayed by his own words.
- Cain also said he never did anything inappropriate. That is a matter of opinion. I am certified in interrogations in sexual abuse crimes, so I am well aware that perpetrators never think that their conduct is inappropriate.
- Right after Cain stated that he was never inappropriate, he licked his lips. I didn’t see any other time when he licked his lips. Lip-licking wasn’t normal for him. So when it happens, it can be a sign of anxiety or fear. A fraction of a second later, I saw a micro-flash expression of what we call “duping delight.” His mouth turned up for a micro-second, expressing a belief that he persuaded his audience.
- In gauging deception, experts keep a look out for the 12 known verbal deceptors. Cain made use of the one we call “repeated assertions.” That’s when someone thinks that if I say something loud enough and I repeat it, the audience will believe me. Twice, he said he did not do anything inappropriate.
- At the end of his speech, Cain insisted his campaign was not going away. His hand motions reflected that belief. He extended his hand out in a horizontal motion and his thumb pointed back at himself, as if giving travel directions and saying I am pressing forward.
My sense of Herman Cain, based on that speech, is that he has pushed aside – rejected – the allegations in his own mind, and convinced himself that his campaign will go on. At the CNBC-GOP debate later in the week, the sexual harassment allegations were barely mentioned. Cain’s body language showed he was able to regroup, he was emotionally prepared and he appeared confident.