Everyone has a tell or two. I’m referring to something specific in a person’s behavior or demeanor that offers a clue about what they are thinking or feeling. When a tell contradicts what someone is expressing verbally, it signals others that they are hiding something, telling a half-truth, or lying outright. Of course, if the listener is unskilled at reading nonverbal behavior they may miss it altogether, even though they often sense that something is amiss. Winning at poker requires an expertise in reading tells.
We have all had a lot of opportunity lately to observe Hillary Clinton answering questions related to recent and past scandals, outlining and defending her positions on the economy, domestic issues, and foreign affairs, and sharing her vision for America. Most significant are the two primary debates, the recent (and several past) Benghazi hearings, and the interviews and press conferences regarding her use of a personal email server while at the State Department.
Almost everyone agrees that Ms. Clinton is intelligent, quick on her feet, and very articulate when stating or defending her positions and handling highly charged situations, like the recent hearings. Her responses are carefully crafted, and she usually demonstrates calm and composure, even when under attack. However upon close observation, her body is revealing something else.
Candidate Clinton’s tells are primarily in her face; which is interesting because the face is the easiest part of the body to control and manipulate. However it is her eyes that say the most and they do this by using the following signals:
- Their expression shifts from soft to hard, and she stops eye contact and stares straight ahead when a difficult topic is raised, she is asked a question she is not comfortable with, and especially when she is feeling attacked and angry with the questionnaire and question.
- They close briefly when she is responding to certain questions. This shielding behavior says she does not want to reveal what she is thinking–and it is most likely to occur when she is giving carefully crafted and rehearsed answers as opposed to being candid and transparent. She has done this when discussing her marriage to Bill, her handling of her email, and when talking about her relationship with President Obama and how her positions line up with his.
- They glance down when an aggressive or hostile question is asked of her. We have seen this numerous times when Secretary Clinton was on the hot seat for her role in the Benghazi deaths, and throughout the whole email scandal. Ms. Clinton will look directly at the person asking the difficult question and even begin her answer using eye contact. Then as her affect shifts to tense and her facial expression shows defensiveness, she will look down and appear to be reciting an answer from a script, even when she is not. This is also known as shielding.
Ms. Clinton’s facial muscles mirror her eye signals, which sends a clearer and more complete message to the viewer. When she is relaxed and open, she has a full smile, prominently raised cheekbones and her eyes are bright as she maintains strong eye contact. When she is feeling defensive, attacked, or secretive—her smile is forced and does not extend to her cheekbones and eyes. It is a tight, close lipped, and forced smile–and her eyes follow as they flutter closed or look elsewhere, not wanting to reveal her true feelings and emotions.