How to Look Concerned When Meeting with the President

The Atlantic

If you're ever in a meeting with the leader of the free world, you know it's important. Or rather, you better show it's important. After careful study of the photographic record of the Obama administration, we can tell you everything you need to know about how to appropriately convey your sense of concern about whatever the other people in the room are talking about. 

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There are several ways you can do this—leaning forward, nodding, not falling asleep—but the most effective method that we've found is to place your hand on your chin or over your mouth. Nothing says "I'm concerned with this issue that you are speaking of" like a couple of well-placed fingers on the lower half of your face. For example, check out this photo of Thursday's cabinet meeting at the White House, being led by brand new Secretary of State John Kerry.

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Who do you think is the most concerned person in this photo? Could it be Attorney General Eric Holder, who looks nearly terrified about whatever Kerry is saying?

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Maybe it's Valerie Jarrett, who is both concerned and seems to understand where the Secretary is going with this.

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Or perhaps, it's Joe Biden, who looks very concerned about something else that Kerry's story just reminded him of.

Of course, the person who looks the least concerned is the President himself. Notice how he's slumped in his chair, knee up and resting on the table. Not very concern-like, at all.

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In fact, Barack Obama has been criticized in the past for a deficit of concern, especially when he's supposedly doing things that are very, very serious.

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The President took a lot of feet ... we mean, heat, for this photo of him talking on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back in 2009. Many Israelis and some American conservatives accused Obama of being disrespectful to the man on the other end of the line, suggesting this feet-on-desk posture proved he wasn't sufficiently concerned about Netanyahu's country. (And it's not nice to show people your feet, either.)

The President can still get away with that though, because he's the President. But if you find yourself in a meeting with him, don't even think about slouching, let alone taking your feet off the floor. Even Cabinet-level officials know that you have got to show your concern. Here's John Kerry (as a Senator) returning the favor.

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Senator Harry Reid is concerned. Rep. Steny Hoyer, not as much. Hoyer was the House Majority Leader. Reid remains the Senate Majority Leader.

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There's some concerned people in this photo...

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... but come on, Chuck Schumer! 

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It's Concern, not McKayla Maroney!

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That's a little better. Needs work. But you can't beat Joe Biden, who is the Master of Concern. 

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See? The guy is a pro. You don't get to be Vice President by not being concerned. (Good effort by the man across the table below though.)

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Just remember that when meeting in the Situation Room, you can never be concerned enough.

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Don't get us wrong. The President can show concern. In fact, he's great at it. Look:

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It's just that no one has to make him show concern. If he wants to put his leg up in the air and slide back in chair while talking about matters of national security, then he's just going to do that. Rahm Emmanuel had enough concern for both of them.

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The relaxed posture doesn't mean Obama's not concerned. In fact, when he leans back, he might be the most concerned guy in the room:

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"Am I concerned enough about this?"

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"Yes, I should definitely think about being concerned about this."

The point is that you can tell a lot about who is showing the proper concern and who isn't, just by watching their hands and face—or in Obama's case, his knee. And if someone isn't showing concern, they simply aren't doing their job. Take a look.

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Eric Holder is concerned, and Hillary Clinton has some good concern in her too, but the President's high knee suggests he's the least concerned of all.

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The President has never been concerned about Hillary not being concerned enough. The Secretary of State is a champion of concern. Here's her crowning achievement:

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No one has ever been more concerned. Ever.

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The 7-10 split of concern.

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If this isn't concern, we don't know what concern is. Too much concern for Rep. James Clyburn's concern to stay in focus.

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Knee's up!

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Eric Holder is concerned about Joe Biden. (Look for The Knee!)

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Concerned.

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Not concerned.

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"You guys show your concern on the other side of the desk."

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Tim Geithner is very concerned at where that finger is pointing.

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"Is Joe Biden the only one concerned about this?"

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No one here is concerned about much of anything.

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Obama is only concerned about these eating these carrots.

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This is a concern contest (that John Boehner has lost.)

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Does this leg look concerned to you? Foot. Meet Desk.

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Finally, the pièce de résistance: The rarely seen, hand-on-face, foot-on-desk, knee-in-the-air, chair-off-the-floor, ultra-concerned leanback.

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This is why he's the President, folks.

All photos by Official White House Photographer Pete Souza

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