Russia G20 Summit: Obama and Putin’s Body Language Reveals Who Has More Personal Confidence, Leadership, and Power


At the Russia G20 Summit, Obama and Putin’s Body Language Reveals Who Has More Personal Confidence, Leadership, and Power.

In this Photo-Opportunity, Putin is located in the preferred, “Left of Other” power position because Putin’s right hand is poised to be in the dominate handshaking view in the photo.  However, as the video continues we see who really is in the power position during the handshake encounter.

First, notice that Obama is lacking a warm friendly smile and what is known as the “Eyeball Flash” during his initial visual sight of Putin.  When people see someone familiar whom we like or someone whom we find attractive, our eyebrows quickly lift and open wider in an initial “eyeball flash”  friendly greeting.  Typically, a genuine smile (with crow’s feet around exterior corners) complements the ‘twinkle or smile’ shown in the eyes.

Instead, Obama’s eyes and eyebrows appear to be tensed, pulled together tightly, or squinting as if the sun were in his eyes upon initial visual sight of Putin.  Obama does not give Putin a genuine warm smile upon approaching him.

Compared to Putin’s non-verbal gestures, Obama shows more personal confidence and leadership in his body language gestures, as indicated by Obama’s:

  • taller height
  • wider, longer walking stride
  • genuine smile midway during his complete control of the entire handshake encounter (i.e., Obama determined the start, duration, excessive # of 18 – 20 handshake pumps, and conclusion of handshake).
  • attempt to dominate and pull Putin’s hand and forearm closer toward Obama’s body
  • leaning into Putin’s physical space…resulting in Putin pulling back with his chin downward and tucked in a protective ‘turtle’ gesture closer to his neck
  • right hand almost appears to “air-touch” Putin’s left forearm in another subtle gesture of dominance
  • walks across and in front of Putin…which blocks the view of the camera on Putin
  • “signature” youthful and confident spring-in-his-final-steps up and into the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013

Putin’s bald head is in the shot of the camera as the two men move toward each other.  Putin musters a forced, social, smile and tries to maintain his arm close to his body during the awkward handshake.  Putin then stands alone without the appropriate Presidential props (e.g., Russian Flags, Military Guards, Entourage, etc) to distinguish him as the President of Russia, and continues with a downward, submissive, eye-gaze as Obama walks past him.  Without the Russian Presidential props and only the Russia G20 Signage in the video, Putin could have been wrongfully mistaken as the Hotel Doorman standing outside alone waiting to greet the arriving USA President Obama.

As this video illustrates, both men have not yet developed mutual ease, rapport, and comfort with each other.  However, their body language is much improved compare to their previous encounter in Ireland in June 2013 (see video below):


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3 thoughts on “Russia G20 Summit: Obama and Putin’s Body Language Reveals Who Has More Personal Confidence, Leadership, and Power

  1. I really appreciate the “eye flash” reference. So consistently true of human interaction. This is an excellent piece identifying the true center of power in our world today. President Barack Obama appears to be at the peak of his power and I believe he knows it.

    Though still a principle player on the world stage, Russia is no longer the formidable adversary it once was. The collapse of 1991 revealed its endemic flaws for all to see, and betrayed its ill-fated pretensions at parity with the west.

    • Hi, Tony!

      Thank you for your response. Body Language reveals so much of our true emotions, underlying motives, and personality. Stay tune for more Accurate Body Language information on my website/blog!

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