TL;DR – A picture is worth a thousand words.
Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, posted a group photo on his Facebook yesterday.
In the photo, you can also spot Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Parliamentary Secretary (Home Affairs and Health) Amrin Amin, as well as officials from various ministries and agencies.
They were accompanying PM Lee on an official three-day visit to Beijing, China. Madam Ho Ching was there too.
In case you were wondering why PM and his wife were missing from the photo, both of them were being welcomed by a ceremony outside the Great Hall of People.
Two things that stood out in this photo – where Minister Chan was standing and how he was standing.
Why was Chan standing in the middle?
Minister Chan is not the most senior minister of the lot, so why was he standing at the centre of the photo? He is probably the first person your eyes notice.
For all we know, the photographer might have requested for him to stand in the centre to make the photo look more balanced (note that the gentlemen on the extreme ends are also approximately the same height as Minister Chan). It’s plausible.
But there is a deeper explanation for this element of body language.
According to Professor John Suler, who wrote an online book titled, “Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche”, the body language and position of people in a group photo reveals a lot.
The group photo applies to people who are asked to line up and form rows in a seemingly mundane “class photo” style.
John Suler believes that the position people assume within the group might reveal something about their psychological status in the group.
“More dominant or influential people tend to stand in front, in the center, or above others.”
Chan was the only one with his hands behind his back
Unlike the other ministers who kept their hands by their sides, Minister Chan was the only one who stood with his hands behind his back.
Body language experts believe that when someone is holding their hands behind their back, it is a display of fearlessness, superiority and confidence in themselves as it exposes the vulnerable parts of the body.
Minister Chan is the advisor for Business China Singapore and former head of the government’s Chinese Community Liaison Group.
He has also been overseeing the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative which is one of the three government-to-government (G2G)level projects between Singapore and China.
More importantly, he is tipped to be in the running of the next Prime Minister.
Last year, he accompanied PM Lee to the special dinner at the White House.
So are we over-analysing a simple photo? Certainly hope not.