A client called the other day and said she missed seeing what ‘Sharon’ had to say on the debates—the VP debate to be precise….
I shared with her that while some were entertained during the VP debates. I, for one, was not. I have absolutely no patience for rude people! There, I said it.
I have withheld sharing a post-VP-debate review because I had been emotionally triggered by Biden’s adolescent behavior. I try to stay apolitical and I don’t want the role of political pundit, however she convinced me to share my thoughts. Even with years of intense training your emotional reactions don’t go away—you just become more aware of what they are and what they mean.
Why do I call Biden’s behavior Adolescent? A little background… I teach a program called How To Deal With Difficult People. In fact, I’m writing this article on a flight back from Wisconsin after sharing the program with 40 managers. Part of that program is the seven archetypes of difficult people, and how to spot and “deal” with them verbally and non-verbally.  Below is a short quote for one of those archetype descriptions, The Adolescent:
“The Adolescent wants to be special and center-stage….
“…If you know a person’s normal behavior and what you’re experiencing with them is unusual, assume they have temporarily reverted to an Adolescent.  It will be like listening to a 13-year-old. You might hear phrases like, “Don’t yell at me,” “Easy for you to say,” and “Yeah, right,” when you ask a favor or exercise a leadership command. They will say you’re playing favorites…. They complain, whine, and act defeated. Smirks and eye-rolls are common, as are loud sighs. If they can get away with it, they may even slam a desk drawer or door.
“They often react when they feel something is not ‘fair.’ In a dysfunctional group, this person can raise their status in the eyes of the group with this childlike behavior, because the more inappropriate The Adolescent’s behavior, the more the dysfunctional group is entertained.”
So that said, here are the major highlights of what was going on behind the words during the VP debate:
It appears, for Biden, that his behavior accomplished what he wanted and that was to be center-stage, appear engaged, even on-the-attack. He needed to re-energize the base of support disappointed by Obama’s Denver performance. Reading the pundits afterwards, he certainly entertained some.
Personally, I was appalled—the snarky laughing and the rolling eyes – all of that is adolescent behavior. But it absolutely accomplished what he wanted, whether I agree with the behavior or not.
I have to be careful because my own judgments come into play here. My first response to my own hand gestures to the TV and a vocal retort of “Oh come on, grow up. Why are you doing 13-year-old behavior?”
Biden used numerous hand gestures, most are congruent with his words. Biden did not disappoint me with his finger pointing gesture. It’s the gesture he uses most often. His love of the pointed finger gesture can leave a viewer feeling lectured instead of talked with. I fully expected both his numerous gestures and his hell-fire and brimstone style of attack. He touched his face less then I expected. And, what is there really left to say about a display that was so very un-presidential…. Now, we know…. he does The Adolescent behavior very well.
Ryan had his share of disappointing behavior too. He missed several opportunities to be seen as in control and leader-like. Ryan continued to display behaviors that say “I’m just like you.”
[Note: As I mentioned, I’m flying back from spending the week in Wisconsin, Ryan’s home state. The “just-like-you” behavior appears to be a cultural norm for the area I was visiting.]
Part of his “I’m just-like-you” behaviors include: when he arrived at his critical key points he wrinkled his forehead and his eyebrows went up right before and stayed up for almost the entire length of the pause. This movement was used to punctate his point with a “Really, it’s true,” underlying meaning.
Whenever Ryan comes to his key sound-bite phrases, he pauses, so that his point can sink in.  That’s great, that’s what the pause is for—besides allowing the speaker to breathe. Yet, he does a short, under-his-breath sound, somewhere between a grunt and a “hmm” at the beginning of each of those pauses. It sounds a bit like “hhuumpf”. You have to listen really close. You can absolutely hear it when you watch the video of him giving his address at the Convention.
The “hhuumpf” reinforces his point or have you laugh at the punchline. When it’s a punchline he does it with a smile, giving it a laughing quality. Problem is, it diminishes that point or punchline. A speaker’s hope should be that his or her message resonates under its own power and the power of the delivery. “Hhuumph” weakens the power of what he just said and diminishes how we feel about the person that just said it. I find myself thinking each time I hear his noise, “I got it, you don’t have to tell me ‘This is an insert laugh here moment,’ or ‘that was a strategic point moment.'” It shrinks that moment and point.
A silent pause with a sideways facing, open palm gesture frozen in place during the entire pause would make it so much more powerful!
Ryan needs to add a little bit of Southern preacher to his delivery—something to fire up our emotional “Hell yeah” brain. His steady stay-on-point delivery accomplished what pundits say was his major intention—that of “Do no harm.”  Not screwing up isn’t the best motivation to go into a crucial conversation with, but we can’t fault him for wanting it.
For me, he should have reacted to Biden’s bad behavior a little firmer.  Sometimes, you don’t have the luxury of waiting out someone’s bad behavior and he didn’t. It would have been nice to see him confirm some of our sanity by calling out the bad behavior more than once.
If somebody is going to interrupt, and you acquiesce to that interruption, it really diminishes your power. If someone is interrupting you, one way to maintain your power is to keep talking. Yes, keep talking right over him or her, withhold eye contact, put up a stop hand gesture and you keep right on talking.  Every time Ryan acquiesced to the interruptions, he gave more power to the bad behavior and in turn, Biden.
Ryan kept reaching for water. He certainly could have been thirsty, sometimes when I’m speaking, my mouth just gets very dry —so I’m not critical of that. However, there seemed to be a pattern to it.  Repeatedly, he took a sip of water at a certain time in the conversation—it appeared to the viewer more of a nervous habit than thirst.
It could have been a fidget or he could have been covering up his own unconscious facial expressions. If you have a glass in your mouth, it’s a bit hard to smirk, bite your lip, etc.  Drinking water is a more socially acceptable nonverbal when compared to eye rolling and smirking.
I think that’s enough for now.  As always, enjoying the adventure,
To Success! To Life!