Trump & Merkel's G7 Body Language Says So Much About The Summit's Power Dynamics
The leaders who gathered together for the G7 summit in Canada over the weekend surely had a lot to talk about. But the internet seems to collectively agree the meeting was summed up by that one intense photo of Trump, Angela Merkel, and other G7 leaders. While numerous people on Twitter and elsewhere have taken it upon themselves to analyze the body language in the photo, two body language experts have their own takes on the instantly iconic shot.
Body language expert Patti Wood said that the photo — which Merkel's office posted on Instagram along with the caption "spontaneous meeting between two working sessions" — offered many interesting elements. "You’d think this would be from a nighttime talk show, a made up photo, it’s that extreme," Wood says.
Wood, who is also the author of a book on body language and first impressions, first dissected one of the two central figures in the photo: Donald Trump. "Typically, Trump likes to be the center of everything, he likes to be taller, or standing in the center," Wood says. "So one of the things I found really interesting is that he’s sitting rather than standing, which changes the power dynamics in the photos."
In this photo, though, Wood tells Bustle that Trump has managed to reverse that position, putting himself in a position of power — hands crossed, legs spread, an "alpha male position" — even though he's sitting and everyone else is standing.
"He has a king’s seat," Wood says.
Dr. Lillian Glass, another body language expert, also noted Trump's crossed arms. "Trump appears impenetrable, as reflected in his crossed arms, and defiant, with his lower jaw jutted forward," Glass tells Bustle.
Wood reads a slightly different expression on Trump's face — although one that isn't mutually exclusive with the defiance that Glass noted. "I think there’s hidden amusement," Wood notes of Trump's facial expression, noting his slightly upturned lips, raised cheeks, and eyes. This, Wood says, was particularly interesting to notice because no one else seems to display the same amusement.
The other figure who offers the most to dissect is, of course, the one whose office posted the photo: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both Wood and Glass agree that overall, Merkel is holding herself in a typically "male" posture — and is displaying a significant amount of aggression.
"Of all of the people in that photo, her aggression is the strongest," Wood says.
They read Merkel's exact arm position differently, however. Glass believes that her shoulders are tense and raised in anger, while Wood says that Merkel's hands are relaxed and her arms are simply locked.
"That makes me think that she feels like [Trump will] change his position — there's no tension in those hands," Wood tells Bustle. "Her arms are locked because her position — how she feels — isn’t going to change."
They came together over Merkel's facial expression, however. In Wood's opinion, Merkel looks "slightly dumbstruck."
"She can’t believe what’s happening, and there’s sadness as well," Wood says.
Glass also says that she notices surprise written into Merkel's expression. "Her mouth is open — agape — and her face has a neutral expression, indicating that she is surprised at what is happening and at Trump's reaction," Glass says.
Of course, the other leaders present in the photo all offer other body language elements worth nothing. Glass and Wood both notice, for example, that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's crossed arms and tilted head seem to suggest that he's mirroring Trump, although Wood also suggested that Abe could also be conflicted between Trump's and Merkel's positions. Glass also mentions the surprise registering on French President Emmanuel Macron's face, and how he can't seem to believe what's going on between Merkel and Trump.
Only those present at the meeting know what exactly was said — but they say that a photo is worth a thousand words, and this one might just be worth a couple more thousand.