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Spring 2012

Face to Face, Power & Perspective Taking
By Jeff Baile

  1. Raise your dominant hand index finger out in front of you and imagine the tip has been dipped in black ink.
  2. Place your "inked" finger in the center and at the top of your forehead.
  3. Now close your eyes and draw a large capital E on your forehead.

Power n. The capacity to influence other people; it emerges from control over valuable resources and the ability to administer reward
and punishments.

From the beginning, it was anything but the friendly interview Mitt Romney was expecting. He was doing okay keeping it together until asked about the mandated health care he'd implemented as governor of Massachusetts. That's when the interview began to deteriorate.
"Do you still support the idea of a mandate?" the reporter pressed as he leaned in. "Do you believe that was the right thing for Massachusetts?"

A visibly flustered Romney responded, "I don't know how many times I've answered that. This is an unusual interview: let's do it again."

Just looking at what Governor Romney said provides little insight into his attitude about those questions, but how he said those words reveals exactly how he felt. What I mean by "visibly flustered" is this: as the words leave his lips, a minute expression of surprise appears – he wasn't expecting the line of questioning. Then he sneers in contempt, his lips angrily purse, and an unconvincing smile emerges in an effort to hide his scorn. Romney finally retreats in his chair and pulls his left leg over his right, building an instant psychological fence against more attacks. This all happened in four seconds. You didn't have to be an expert in body language analysis to realize he completely fell apart nonverbally.

The presidential hopeful went on justifying his health plan but the sharp journalist clearly saw he'd struck a nerve so he continued–as any good reporter would–his verbal assault. That sent Romney into a tailspin. In my view, a big reason his actual feelings were exposed was that Romney did not automatically self-monitor at the moment he felt threatened. During those brief seconds, he was entirely unaware of what his nonverbals were saying compared to his words. His movements and fake smiling easily showed the interviewer and millions of viewers that he was conflicted. It's my guess he really didn't want to give that impression. But in a way, it wasn't his fault.

Scientists have found that those who hold positions of "power" have a tougher time seeing themselves as others do. They generally are more concerned with personal achievements than with worrying how they look. Overly concentrating on the self would ordinarily trigger a high self-monitoring effect. But this is not the case when power is thrown into the mix – the exact inverse results.

Romney's dual power titles – businessman and candidate – psychologically muted his ability to see and consider what the reporter perceived: that he (Romney) was rattled about the topic of mandated health care. Unfortunately, Romney's gaffe signaled the journalist he was on to something, which caused Romney an extremely painful next five minutes. And the media talked and wrote about those five minutes for days.

Read the rest of the story, in PDF Format.




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