- Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
- At this month’s G7 summit, President Trump shared awkward greetings with French President Emmanuel Macron, his wife Brigitte Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
- Business Insider spoke with a body language expert who said that awkward greetings are usually the result of differing cultural norms.
- It’s not the first time President Trump has been awkward on camera, from long handshakes with President Macron to being talked down to by Chancellor Merkel.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
People often communicate as much with their bodies as with words – especially when the whole world is watching.
At this month’s G7 summit, President Donald Trump shared a long handshake with French President Emmanuel Macron, air-kissed German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and put his hands around UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s shoulders.
At the summit, world leaders representing six countries and the European Union gather to discuss issues like climate change, trade, and defense. The summit held in Biarritz, France, was rife with awkward moments, and not only from President Trump. To explain those exchanges, Business Insider spoke with body language expert and director of New York University’s Management Communication Program, Susan J. Stehlik, about Trump’s behavior.
“With Mr. Trump, it’s always a guessing game,” Stehlik told Business Insider. “He has a reputation for being unpredictable, breaking norms, and grabbing the spotlight.”
President Trump shared some of his more awkward moments with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
- Getty Images
Stehlik noted President Trump’s body language history at past G7 summits, where he sat with his arms crossed, frowning.
According to Stehlik, Trump is either displaying his objection to a current conversation, or simply sitting comfortably. But it’s that combination of pouting and crossed arms that send the wrong message.
“I’d say at the very least he is not pleased, and may even be sending an intimidating nonverbal message,” Stehlik said.
Trump air-kissed Merkel just before a group photo.
While world leaders gathered for a group photo in Biarritz on Sunday, Trump greeted Merkel with a handshake and a kiss.
“The handshake looks fairly neutral and Merkel appears to be giving her cheek, but Trump is puckered up and appears ready to plant a kiss,” Stehlik said.
According to Stehlik, their body language is less confrontational than it had been at last year’s G7 summit, when Merkel famously leaned on a desk and stood over Trump, who sat with his arms crossed.
French First Lady Brigitte Macron also kissed Trump hello.
- Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
Stehlik stressed the importance of not always trusting a photo – in this case, a peck on the cheek from Brigitte Macron is frozen in time.
The other concern, says Stehlik, is whether politicians should remain neutral in their greetings or try to follow cultural norms. In this case, Trump and Brigitte Macron went for the quintessential French greeting, a kiss on each cheek, initiated by the wife of Emmanuel Macron.
“The question is whether one wants to be perceived as sophisticated about certain cultural greetings, or whether one is going for a degree of intimacy,” Stehlik said. “The range of intent is quite broad. I like to look at who appears dominant or making the first move.”
Trump shared another long handshake with French President Emmanuel Macron.
- Getty Images
During the final press conference of the G7 summit on August 26, President Trump shook hands with President Macron for several seconds. The two have been known to shake hands for a remarkably long time, including a 29-second shake in July 2017.
Melania Trump shared a brief kiss hello with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
- Carlos Barria/Reuters
The greeting, which lasted a fraction of a second, was described as “flirtatious” by Stehlik. The image soon went viral, as CNN reports.
Twitter quickly dubbed it “like a Vogue ad.”
Trump grabbed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson by the shoulders.
Trump is known for his forceful handshakes and dominating poses, like this one with Boris Johnson. Despite Trump getting the better of him for a moment, Johnson then countered with his own arm around Trump’s shoulder, which, says Stehlik, Trump wouldn’t have appreciated.
“In many cultures navigating the personal and professional relationship is a sensitive issue,” she said. “Becoming more self-aware and ratcheting up one’s EQ would be helpful to all of them and all of us that have to see them.”