Nalder denies involvement in poll: Nonverbal analysis questions the truth behind his words

Over the past few days a damaging opinion poll, privately funded by Perth businessmen, came to light, showing political leadership could be in trouble. Western Australia's Premier Colin Barnett described the poll as an act of disloyalty. 

Yesterday, Transport Minister Dean Nalder was interviewed regarding his involvement in commissioning the poll, an accusation he denied. In this post I'm going to highlight some of the nonverbal cues that Nalder signals throughout his interview.

As a Body Language Specialist I'm interested in what is being communicated on the whole, not just listening to what is being said. When communicating, most people focus their cognitive efforts on listening to the verbal content, yet in doing this they miss what is really being communicated; the truth behind the words. We all have the ability to filter and adapt the words we speak to conceal how we really feel, but none of us have the ability to conceal involuntary nonverbal behaviours that signal our true feelings. 

I'm specifically looking for nonverbal signals that are incongruent with the spoken word, for example a head shake when we say "yes", or a nod when we say "no". Head shaking/nodding is not a universal gesture, in that it isn't uniform across all cultures, because some cultures do it differently. Therefore, it can't always be taken an incongruent. However, in this case (Nalder's interview), the cultural context allows us to take the head shake as negative, and a nod as affirmative. Any incongruence to this would signal a red flag, indicating not all is as it sounds. 

Another incongruent behaviour that I'm going to highlight is the one sided shoulder shrug. This is one cue that I refer to a lot, when auditing for deception detection. Those of you that are familiar with my work will already be knowledgeable about this interesting nonverbal signal. It's an involuntary cue that signals that we don't have confidence in the words we speak. So it can be very significant in terms of deception detection, depending on the words it accompanies. Don't mix this up with a full shoulder shrug (two shoulders), which means we do have confidence in our words, a significant cue that points towards truth. 

The third significant nonverbal cue that I should explain further is the eyelid flutter. We see these in abundance in this interview. It's an involuntary cue and signals discomfort or dislike. It can be triggered by stress, and is usually seen when someone says something we strongly disagree with, in people struggling with thoughts or in finding the right words. Think of it as an inner temper tantrum. 

I've transcribed the interview taken from video footage in The West Australian's article: Act of disloyalty: Barnett hits back but won't sack Nalder. At relevant points, I've added the nonverbal signals, displayed by Nalder, that I find to be the most significant or interesting. Where I've added these nonverbal cues I've also added some questions that spring to mind, questions I feel should help to seek the truth, should they have been investigated further. Most of these questions I've added at the start, fill in with your own later on as an exercise in deception detection!

By the way, I should mention, if you're a journalist and you have some interesting footage that you'd like me to look at, at some point in the future, feel free to get in touch.

Bold text indicates an area of concern; a red flag. If we were investigating to seek the truth, these are the areas that would require further investigation. The nonverbal cues give us an indication that something is amiss, in direct response to the stimulus. The stimulus being either the words of Nalder himself or the questions from the reporters).

Here's the analysis:

"What role have you played in the commissioning of this polling?"

(Congruent head shake with the 'not face' universal expression [disagreement/disapproval/negation], eye block [closing of eyes = dislike], eyelid flutter), "Nothing." 

"You spoke to John Poynton though?"

"Yes (congruent head nod) John, er, John has shared (congruent head nod) the results of the poll with me, er, quite a few days ago" (incongruent head shake. Was it more than a few days, exactly when did he first share this?)
"...I was shocked at the results" (eyelid flutter. Were you truely shocked at the results or did you predict them?)
"It's not something that I discuss publicly, er, I have..." (Nalder continues talking)

Reporter interrupts:
"Did you know he was doing it before he showed you?" (Nalder responds with an eyelid flutter, whilst avoiding the question and continuing to talk)

"I have shared it with a, er, with a couple of my colleagues" (eyelid flutter. Which colleagues? The right colleagues? A couple of colleagues? more or less?)
"I discovered that, er, other people..." (eyelid flutter. Which other people?)
"...had, er, also, er, shared the results with, er, members of parliament" (eyelid flutter. You're not happy with that?)
"I don't know all those that are involved in, er, commissioning this poll" (eyelid flutter. Really? But you know some of them.) 
"I haven't had anything to do with commissioning or conducting any poll, er, and er, you know (the 'not face' expression) I stand beside (corrects self- filters/adapts words) behind the Premier."
"I'm not looking to challenge (congruent head shake) the Premier, never have been." (possible, very subtle incongruent head nod)
"Er, I think a lot of this stems from early comments the Premier made about, er, polls in the past where he would look to step aside. And I'll only say that..." (eyelid flutter. Do you have more to say?)
I'll only ever contemplate my position, er, should (eyebrow raise to emphasise the word 'should') the Premier choose to step aside and I believe that's his decision."

"Why not take the polling to the Premier himself (Nalder eyelid flutters) and warn him (Nalder eyelid flutters) that business men were doing this?"

"I've tried to establish a meeting, er, with the Premier over a number of issues (eye block), for the last three weeks and I haven't (eyebrow raise to emphasise 'haven't') been able to get in and see him at all(eyebrow raise to emphasise 'at all'. It seems he really isn't happy with this, there could be communication issues between Barnett and Nalder)

"So you, you, it was, the, the meeting was planned that you, you would have alerted him to this?" (Nalder eyelid flutters)

I've been trying to get a meeting with the Premier. I haven't been able to have a meeting with the Premier. Whether I was going to discuss it is all academic, er..." 

Reporter interrupts:
"No it's not, it's not academic."

"Yes it is. Well it is because I became aware of it over the last few days. I've tried to, er, establish a meeting with the Premier, I haven't been able to have one at this point. There's a number of things I have to discuss with him. They're things I have to do in confidence with the Premier." (Nalder is really pushing the point of not being able to get a meeting with Barnett. He could be passing the responsibility back to Barnett, or he could be highlighting significant communication issues)

Can I ask, Do you think it's appropriate that businessmen, I mean the Premier clearly doesn't and the Deputy Premier doesn't think it's appropriate. Do you think it's appropriate on doing these sorts of polling on Liberal leadership? (Clusters of eyelid flutters throughout)

I get concerned, er, over any poll result that get conducted (one sided shoulder shrug. obviously you don't) Er, there's always questions asked when, when polls are conducted (very subtle one sided shoulder shrug. Not 'always'), irrespective of who does them and, er, where they're done, whether it's the journalists that do them, whether its the newspapers.."

Reporter interrupts:
"No, no, these are very specific questions about a very unusual poll, done by specific representatives, seemingly for the purpose of ...? leaderships." (Nalder gulps and gasps/exhales indicating stress)

"Look I. Look. If. You know. (False starts, not sure how to answer) I can't comment (congruent head shake, eye block, eyelid flutter)
"... on what their motives are. You have to ask them that" (congruent head shake, eye block) 
"I haven't been involved in commissioning it." (congruent shake, eyelid flutter)

Video cuts off


The nonverbal cues displayed by Nalder all add up to help us see the bigger picture about what is really being communicated. If you're paying attention to this important part of communication, observing and starting to understand the meaning behind nonverbal signals, you really gain the upper hand across all interactions, because you gain a better understanding of the interaction. This increases empathy and allows us to better respond to to true feelings of others, as well as helping us in seeking the truth.

If you're interested in learning more about nonverbal communication in terms of professional development, check out our training options and services.

Sophie ZadehComment