Justin Patton

Lesson 2: How to Lose a Political Debate Without Saying A Word

Lesson 2: How to Lose a Political Debate Without Saying A Word

Lesson #2: Momma Told You To Always Listen With Respect

Active listening seems to be a core skill that many professionals struggle with, and Nixon is no different. Our job as a listener is to make the person talking feel heard and validated – regardless of whether we agree with them or not. This fundamental leadership skill allows us to humanize ourselves through empathy. Political leaders can demonstrate this during a debate by watching the other candidate as they speak, turn their feet and body at an angle when they address/listen to the other candidate, and avoid any stress cues that could be perceived as signs of discomfort. Vice President Nixon repeatedly fails in this area and is what, I believe, costs him the debate.

Below are four short clips (under 20 seconds each) that will show the behavior Nixon demonstrated while listening to Kennedy. We can’t assume that we know why Nixon demonstrated this behavior. Perhaps it’s because . . .

  • he wasn’t feeling well
  • he was nervous
  • he didn’t know how to interact with the video camera
  • he wanted to jump in and say something

Regardless, body language is NOT about what he or any of us want it to mean; it’s about perception. The American viewers agreed that Nixon looked uncomfortable. You can get away with a particular behavior a few times but when it becomes a theme throughout a debate than viewers start to questions one’s credibility.


Notice the increased blinking (sign of anxiety), chin down, and possible micro-expression in the mouth area.


Notice eye blocking behavior and glance down.



Notice the large sigh, shift in body alignment, and how Nixon’s lips disappear.



Notice more rapid blinking, pulling of lips together, and darting eye contact.

Justin Patton