Decoding Trump's body language

Story highlights

  • The "steeple" and the "grab and yank" are some of Trump's favorite moves
  • Trump's body language indicates an 'alpha male' personality, experts say

(CNN)As President Donald Trump's first official trip abroad comes to an end, handshakes and facial expressions could give us a small glimpse into his personality.

While people speculate what some of Trump's controversial interactions really mean, body language experts shared with CNN what some of his moves and gestures are telling them.

'Fight to the front'

    Trump was caught pushing Montenegro's Prime Minister Dusko Markovic aside at the new NATO headquarters in Italy.
    For body language expert Judi James, the "fight to the front" suggests that Trump is a man for whom status and power hasn't come easily.
    "Kids who grow up being the center of attention will rarely bother to emphasize that role or feel the need to fight for it," James said. "Winning one of the highest roles in the world doesn't seem to have stopped him feeling the need to assert his alpha power at every turn."
    But it wasn't only the push, most experts actually looked beyond it and highlighted the way Trump repositioned his jacket as well as the lack of eye contact he made with Markovic after the incident.
    People tend to apologize or even explain their actions in a non-verbal way after pushing someone, experts explained.
    "You can tell from Trump's body language after the push that he seems to believe that top dog status is his right," James said.

    The 'grab and yank' move

    He used his "grab and yank" handshake while greeting Vice President Mike Pence on election night and months later, when he announced Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch's nomination.
    Trump's trademark move has been called intimidating, aggressive and "hideous to watch" by experts.
    But what's behind the power move? For them, it transmits a simple message: Trump is the alpha male.

    The white-knuckled handshake

    It seems like Trump has turned his political-greeting rituals into a battlefield.
    "This is a return to the business body language of the '80s when the toughest guy won the deal," James said.
    In Brussels, Trump and newly-elected French president Emmanuel Macron shared a white-knuckled handshake. When asked about it, body language experts had conflicting views.
    "Macron is up to the game," said Louise Mahler, a body language and speech expert. "Trump plays to win but he did not on this occasion."
    But Steve Van Aperen, an expert in behavior and body language, disagreed.
    "This is a power-play handshake by Macron trying to display power and control over Trump but in my opinion Trump wins," he said.

    The 'steeple'

    Politicians, actors and pretty much all public figures have their own go-to "rest position," and Trump is no exception.
    For Trump it's "the steeple," a hand position where he uses his fingers and fingertips touch to form a triangle. It transmits power, confidence and precision thinking, experts said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi share a laugh during a bilateral meeting in Riyadh.
    Trump rests his hands on this position when he's seated and a very similar position called victory "O" when he's left standing.
    "The steeple is a classic for 'thought leadership' and both satisfy the need for Trump's body to be unshielded (an action of trust) at all times," Mahler said.

    His 'sad face'

    US President Donald Trump attends a meeting with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21.
    Trump's most common facial expression -- often seen when he poses for the cameras -- combines a pronounced jaw, mouth clamp and staring eyes.
    "As an intentional gesture I imagine he thinks it is keeping the alpha male look alive," James said.
    This expression, James explains, is a popular pose among alpha animals, especially when they "sit away from lower-ranking members of their group" and chomp "on all the extra food they get as part of their status package," James said.