Watching Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan walk down the steps to their podiums, I immediately saw they were 'out of step' both physically and emotionally. Both men displayed several 'fluffing' gestures (doing up jackets, stroking jacket, hand in pocket, hands behind back). This conveyed that neither man felt particularly harmonious or comfortable. Brian Lenihan surveyed the press continually, almost as if he was 'surveying his domain, his future kingdom' and his whole stance exuded confidence and a man in control. At one point, he indicated to Brian Cowen that he would respond to a question and he used a 'gun-like' pointed hand gesture that indicated 'shut-up, I'll deal with this'. As he prepared to answer, Brian Lenihan licked his lips, savouring his moment in the spotlight. This is a man with strong leadership ambitions.
Brian Cowen delivered the first part of this briefing with a distinct lack of passion and conviction, giving the impression that he had been 'rail-roaded'. Someone else wrote this for him because he was not congruent reading it. His shoulders were raised, almost hunched, suggesting high levels of tension. He looked down as he read most of what had been written, and when he did look up, he did not connect or focus on the press. Again we witnessed more 'fluffing' gestures from Brian Cowen with excessive paper-shuffling. When Cowen mentioned that he had "the full support of all my colleagues", he gave a rapid, almost angry glance to Brian Lenihan. This was a totally unconscious yet telling movement that in this case might indicate there had been a disagreement between the men.
Brian Lenihan possesses an intensity about his subject that, combined with his commanding voice, gives him an air of self-confidence. His right hand marked out key points, showing a controlling nature. When he responded to his allotted question, this was clearly an emotive issue for both men. Brian Cowen looked across at Brian Lenihan, whose initial response was to put his hand in his pocket – a 'seeking comfort' gesture or a demonstration there was a barrier between him and Cowen? Lenihan's response was too polished to be impromptu – he had been rehearsing phrases in preparation for this briefing, another indication of his burning ambition.
Brian Cowen's response to press questions prompted him to use lots of palms-upwards/fingers splayed hand gestures that non-verbally conveyed 'please accept this, please like me'. Twice he briefly covered his nose and mouth with his hand – a well-documented gesture that often denotes 'being guarded with the spoken word'. Brian Cowen placed his hand on his chest when he was looking to signal what was really close to his heart. I also think it was an unconscious gesture that affirms his validity as Taoiseach.
A pivotal point in the meeting occurred when Brian Cowen responded to a question about his availability to talk to the press. He became rattled – a faint blush spread across his face and neck and his eyes moved quickly from left to right, showing his panic about how to respond. He appeared to keep this anger in check until the last moment, with his abrupt ending. This demonstrated the lack of unity between the two men. Brian Cowen turned and walked away without even catching the eye of Brian Lenihan, who was left looking slightly foolish. An opportunity to show rehearsed solidarity was missed.
Interestingly, Brian Lenihan took that moment to have the last word and seemed to be apologising for the brusque manner in which Cowen dismissed the press. In that moment, Lenihan's entire demeanour showed his cynicism about Cowen's ability. He shrugged his shoulders, used a dismissive, 'brush off' hand gesture, conveying his irritation and annoyance with Brian Cowen. I would love to have been a fly on the wall in their earlier meeting.
Nikki Owen is the UK's leading charisma, confidence and body language analyst