/Zuma at Zondo: Its all in the body language

Zuma at Zondo: Its all in the body language

2019-07-18 08:50

As much as Zuma claimed to want his “day in court” he is hating every second of the process. That much is clear from his body language, writes Howard Feldman.

I was recently asked by Russia Today to share my thoughts on
the interaction between world leaders at the G20 Summit. In that case one didn’t
need to be an expert to see that Theresa May had no interest in having anything
to do with Vladimir Putin, and that Donald Trump was trying very hard to get
Kim Jong Un back on sides.

I was pleased to have been asked, but it was hardly

To get a sense of a relationship is one thing. Whether we
are trained in the field or not, we often rely on our “gut” and pick
up the nuance and the feeling that flows between people. It is not so much what
they say, but all the other stuff that envelopes it. This should not be a
surprise, given that most agree that less than 10% of our communication is
conveyed by the words we use, whilst around 35% is communicated in tone and
more than 50% by our body language.

Which makes the testimony of former president Jacob Zuma
before the Zondo commission to be so fascinating.

One of the most common questions that I am asked by people I
am training, is if it is possible to tell if a person is lying by reading their
body language? It is possible of course, but it might not be nearly as straight
forward as one might think. There are tell tale signs, but misinformation and
quick references are likely to mislead us, which is why I believe that it is
worth taking a moment to contemplate them.

Before focussing on Zuma, we should spend a moment looking
at Advocate Paul Pretorius, who doesn’t seem to have quite decided if he is
playing the role of good cop or bad cop. His discomfort is not an act and he
seems to be genuinely unsure how forceful and direct he can or should be. He is
not an unconfident person, given his posture and his hand gestures, but he will
need to establish some dominance and directness if he is to achieve anything
more than obfuscation from Zuma.

Zuma claims to have the flu. But aside from the constant
clearing of his throat, there are no other signs. He is hating being on the
stand and is trying to match the politeness of Pretorius and to appeal to the
sympathy of the public. Only the shifting in his seat, the straightening of the
tie, the rubbing of his cheek will not do his credibility any good. Days two and
three of his testimony have not cast him as plausible and he should perhaps
consider the use of a Strepsil if he expects people to believe him.

The best way to tell if a person is lying is to establish a
base line. What this means is to understand how the subject behaves when they
are telling the truth. So, for example, person A, when being honest might maintain
eye contact around 30% of the time. But when they attempt a lie, this might
shift to significantly more or less. It is NOT a rule that a person looks to
the left or right when lying and we need to be careful to jump to simplistic
conclusions. We also have to be careful not to view specific action in
isolation. I always tell students that someone might fold their arms because
that is what is comfortable to them, or they are feeling cold, and not because
they are “closed” off. In other words, it’s the cluster of actions
that we look at and not a specific one.

So, how do we tell if someone is lying? Here are a few
simple ideas:

The talk too much. They provide excessive and
redundant information.

They stutter, stumble, hesitate or clear their
throats excessively.

They shift in their seats.

They might rub their face or neck or adjust
their tie.

Their eye contact changes. Remember it’s the
change that we are looking for.

They might close their eyes when answering a
question – Zuma did this on a number of occasions.  

The most telling sign of all is what we call a micro
expression. This is a split second gesture that gives away more than anyone
would want. The most common micro expression when one side of the mouth is
raised after telling the lie. It is a sign of contempt. Because indeed it is
contempt that the liar has for the whomever they are lying to.

When I am asked to report on any interaction, I often need
to break up the film footage into individual frames and then examine them frame
by frame in order to pick up any nuance and gesture that I might have missed. Vladimir
Putin, as a seasoned global politician is particularly difficult to read and it
often takes me some hours to make a call on a situation.

Donald Trump is the opposite extreme, with his bold gestures
and telling handshakes. He seems to want us to know what he is feeling and he
displays it without concealment. Jacob Zuma too is a particularly physical
person whose body language and non-verbal communication is less subtle than I
am certain he or his lawyers would like.

As much as Zuma claimed to want his “day in court”
he is hating every second of the process. He is obfuscating and concealing and
doing his best to divert his answers away from the question itself. In short, I
wouldn’t be surprised at all if that “flu” that he claims to be
suffering from prevents him from appearing again, as much as he would, no
doubt, want to.

– Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of three books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.

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