Open Your Body Language Tool Chest – How To Hack Complimentary Body Language
The whole world is telling you how to win by showcasing your dominance. Experts tell you to puff out your chest, stand tall, toss your arm over the chair next to you and take up space. We’re inundated with the “Amy Cuddy posture” that tells us to stand like Wonder Woman and Super Man.
However, that’s the same as handing a hammer to a toddler and telling him it’s time to build a house!
There’s more to body language than outright dominance. Even submissive postures done by holding your legs together, lowering your shoulders, and tucking your chin down, should find a place in your toolbox of getting $h*t done!
Why? Well, because there’s a dark side to dominance.
In one study conducted by Morgan Bartholomew and Sheri Johnson, University of California, Berkeley, it was found that people scoring high for mania (such as bipolar disorder) tended to relinquish power less readily.
In the dominant condition, the confederates draped their left arm over the back of an empty chair to their side, crossed their right leg in a figure four leg cross (right ankle resting on the left thigh) with the right knee extending beyond the edge of the chair.
In the submissive condition, the confederate sat in a constricted posture with their legs pressed together, their hands on their lap, and slouched slightly.
In the neutral condition, the confederate sat straight with their legs slightly parted and then arms resting on the armrests of the chair.
Results showed that those scoring low on risk for mania tended to compliment the body language of the confederate rather than confronting them. Those at high risk for mania, on the other hand, tended to continue to use dominant or expansive nonverbal postures.
In much the same way, research by Larissa Tiedens and Alison Fragale, Graduate School of Business Standford University, found that when subjects complimented the body language postures of others, they reported liking them more often than when they didn’t.
The study was conducted much the same as the one mentioned previously. The confederates held either a dominant posture or a submissive posture, and the researchers then measured the reactions of the subjects.
They found that in most cases the subjects naturally complimented the body language of their counterpart by decreased their postural stance when presented with a dominant confederate and increased their postural stance when presented with a submissive confederate.
According to the authors “Human postural expansion and constriction is reminiscent of the dominance displays in other species.” This is no different that nonhuman primates such as chimpanzees.
In other similar studies by Soledad de Lemus and colleagues it was found that when women were confronted with a higher ranking dominant male confederate they also tended to naturally adopt submissive postures.
So, what about the sage advice regarding the “Amy Cuddy postures”? Should we not just use dominance all the time as default?
The short answer is no, because there is an arsenal of body language cues you can use depending entirely on the results you wish to achieve. In your initial experimentation with body language you might begin with dominance-in-full, but find other ways to more successfully tweak it to achieve various life outcomes.
Should you want to go head-to-head with your new boss in a job interview, by all means, power pose and keep that front! Maybe one day, if he’s into that type and overcomes his initial dislike for your lack of complimentary body language, you’ll successfully overthrow him and claim his throne. However, if he’s a stereotypical Alpha-type, he’s going to reject you for the Beta-Monkey whom he’ll feel is more likely to follow his orders.
So in a job, or otherwise, heed to the dominant chimp, lest he figure you’re out to steal his job. In other words, your Alpha-Chimp dominance stance will mark you for elimination before you’ve even had the chance to show off your real skills. That’s not to say you should be totally submissive either – with body language not everything is black and white.
Use Dominant Body Language When…
a) You’re trying to intimidate
Example: Your daughter brings home the local ‘hood rat’ and you want it known that his bull won’t be tolerated.
b) You’re trying to win a dominance competition
Example: You’re posturing before and during a sporting event in order to put the fear into the opponent.
c) You wish to boost your confidence overall
Example: You’re about to present at a seminar and want to do well.
d) You wish to take on a leadership role
Example: You’re vying for a top position within a company and want to stand up to the higher ranking officials.
e) You’re a man and want to create attraction in a woman
Example: You’re standing at the bar and want to posture to a woman nearby so she takes you as strong, healthy, and dominant.
Use Submissive Body Language When…
a) You’re looking to build trust with a high ranking counterpart
Example: You’re applying as an assistant to the head of a corporation and want him to know that you’re willing to take orders.
b) You’re looking for help, sympathy, or reduced punishment
Example: You get pulled over for a speeding ticket and want the officer to drop or reduce the charges.
c) You wish to fly under the radar
Example: You don’t want to be called upon during class.
d) Want to avoid a leadership role and its responsibilities
Example: Your company wishes to elect a member to oversea extra training seminars for which you want no part.
e) You’re a woman and want to create attraction in a man
Example: You catch the eye of a nearby man you find attractive and want him to feel that you’re coy and flirty.
As you practice your dominant and submissive postures be aware that there are gender differences. Men will find it easier to capitalize on dominance postures, whereas women will find it easier to capitalize on submissive postures. However, in order to be well rounded and get the results you want, each posture should have a rightful place in your arsenal of nonverbal communication.
About the Author: Christopher Philip is the creator of Body Language Project.
Bartholomewn, Morgan E.; Sheri L. Johnson. Nonverbal Dominance Behavior Among Individuals at Risk for Mania. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2014. 159: 133-138.
de Lemus, Soledad; Russell Spears and and Miguel Moya. The Power of a Smile to Move You: Complementary Submissiveness in Women’s Posture as a Function of Gender Salience and Facial Expression. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2012. 38(11): 1480-1494.
Tiedens, Larissa Z. and Alison R. Fragale. Power Moves: Complementarity in Dominant and Submissive Nonverbal Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2003, 84(3): 558–568.