Remember die Raute

Next week’s German federal elections will mark the end of the Angela Merkel era. Regarded by many as the most powerful woman in the world, the German chancellor guided her country through many crises and has dominated European politics for the last sixteen years.

But, Mutti has also become famous for her signature hand gesture, known as the Merkel Raute (a German word that translates as rhombus or diamond).

Photo by Armin Linnartz (CC BY-SA 3.0)

While communication specialists have explained the famous gesture as “a sign of stability and reliability”, “an intermediate sensation between proximity and distance”, or even as “a protective roof for defusing and avoiding emotional signals”, the German leader herself says the position of her hands simply shows “a certain love of symmetry”.

Nonverbal communication is more important than most people think. Only a small portion of our (public speaking) message is conveyed through words. It is complemented by vocal elements like volume and pitch. All the rest is communicated through your facial expressions, eye movements, hand gestures, body posture, etc. Even through your makeup or the clothes you wear.

By the way, Angela Merkel isn’t the only politician in history that became (in)famous through an iconic attribute or gesture. Think, for example, of Margaret Thatcher’s handbag, Winston Churchill’s cigar, Mobutu Sese Seko’s leopard skin hat, Napoleon Bonaparte’s hand-in-coat, or even Donald Trump’s L-shaped finger pinch.

Other articles I’ve written about communication skills of political leaders and their spokespeople:

Smile and the world will smile with you

The success of a presentation often depends upon your interaction with the people in the room. To create a true dialog between a speaker and his/her audience, it’s important that they both feel comfortable with each other’s presence. Presenters who aren’t capable of building this rapport may fail to communicate their message, lose their audience’s trust, or deter the latter from asking questions or engaging.

As such, body language and non-verbal communication are powerful tools for putting people at ease while helping yourself to relax. Use positive gestures… Make eye contact… Smile…

(image by Semcon)

A few weeks ago, I delivered a keynote presentation at Connected Cars Europe. One of the sessions at the event touched upon the relationship between self-driving cars and pedestrians. Of course the speaker covered the obligatory ethical minefield of the driverless car forced to decide whether it would kill a group of elderly people rather than a woman with a stroller.

The presenter also gave an interesting answer to the question on how autonomous vehicles may interact with humans to enhance their safety perception. Pedestrians crossing the road often engage with motorists – driving towards or waiting at the intersection – by making eye contact to make sure that the driver noticed them. But how would they feel when this driver is reading a newspaper (while the car is doing all the work on his behalf) or even when there is no person at all sitting behind the steering wheel?

Research has revealed that almost than 60% of pedestrians don’t trust self-driving cars. That’s why a Swedish company introduced a concept car with a front radiator grille display that… smiles at pedestrians. Watch the video below.

This smiling car is just one possible way for future self-driving vehicles to communicate with people around them and avoid confusion or accidents. And just like the public speaker and his audience, both the car driver (or driverless passenger) and the pedestrian will enjoy the experience, and feel more at ease when crossing the street.