Watching Arnab Goswami wrench his interviewees by the neck is always a pleasure, if you are in a voyeuristic mood. You can generally see the guest shift around in the chair, become gradually more and more uncomfortable as the insistent host questions and cross questions on much debated issues surrounding the guest. One of his recent interviews that I stumbled upon gave me a chance to spot a very high rate of tell tale stress postures. This was his show Frankly Speaking, in conversation with the ex-BCCI Chief N. Srinivasan, who has been making headlines continuously for a host of charges involving betting in the IPL tournament. Srinivasan was trying his level best to control his anger at the non ending loop of accusations that Arnab was throwing at him, and at the same time, to refrain himself from leaking any information that might lead to a further mess.
Here is my personal list of the top five postures of stress giveaways.
Srinivasan is displaying not one but a cluster of gestures, all signifying extreme duress in this captured instance. You see closed eyes, which suggest wanting to block out incoming string of questions. The inward rolled lips are showing controlled anger. The watch fiddling gesture is normally seen when a person is stressed and wants to badly comfort himself. Srinivasan is blocking his frontal exposed area with two hands, which is a very defensive position.
In this picture, the tension in Srinivasan’s lips and the narrowed eyes suggest suppressed anger. We see him in a self touching gesture, wherein in the video you can see him slip his hand under the coat and close to his heart. The self touching gesture is a way of pacifying oneself when in anxiety. The level of the hand is defending his frontal body from the volley of accusations.
Picture three shows the ex-BCCI chief holding one arm with the other, and both arms in front of his body – two comforting postures. With the thumb of his left arm he is wiping off saliva from his lip ends. When a person is in a high stress situation, the sympathetic nervous system brings about a sea of physical changes in the body. Reduction of saliva production is one of them and Srinivasan has been caught licking his lips at a frequency which can shame a baby.
Once again here we see a cluster of stress signals. The classic one sided shoulder shrug which suggests lack of confidence and the closed eyes as explained above.
The defensive blocking gesture that Srinivasan has been displaying throughout the interview has been taken to a new height here, wherein now he is hiding a majority of his face with his hands. I would call this a face of shame.
The key takeaway for most of us here is to be aware of what gestures are telling stories of the stress that we might be experiencing, be it in an interview or a negotiation round, or other real life situations. Though it is not possible to hide your stress, knowing about the common defensive positions can make you a little more conscious about them and you might catch yourself from taking on such positions. Once you take on a defensive position, it is difficult to be receptive to further conversation. It might mean the difference between a job and a no job. Or a good negotiation and a lost one.
Written by: Khyati Bhatt