Chapter 8 – Dominant and Submissive Gestures

Summary – Chapter 8

This chapter was focused on dominant and submissive gestures and how they can be used to reach specific goals depending on the situation. One of those goals was conflict avoidance by reducing body size. We found that melting into the background by “sinking in the chair” or pulling the arms inward, pulling the shoulders down and rounding them, hunching in, pulling the chin in and pulling the legs or knees closer together can help to send a non-threatening signal and calm an attacker. Next we looked at how height relates to dominance and spelled out tactics to put ourselves at an advantage be it by taking up a seated position (to level ourselves) or taking to an elevated stage or position. We saw in this chapter that relaxed body language signals ownership and confidence so we should look for a lack of muscle tension, freely moving hands, feet and torso, along with open body postures, to read which people are most confident.

We also found that the head signals nonverbally, for example, the headshake signals a negative thought, whereas the head nod can mean agreement such as in the west or can mean submission or even that a speaker is being heard in Japan, head down represents judgment or a negative thought when accompanied by similar cues in cluster, head tilted shows interest and head back means disapproval.

We discovered that dominant positions are generally also considered open postures and submissive postures are also usually considered closed postures. This theory allowed us to conclude that the chair straddler was both opened and therefore dominant, but also cowardly because the back of the chair formed a barrier from where he or she might throw figurative arrows or spears. We found that legs spread is a dominant gesture and of degree; the greater the spread the more dominant and at some point outright offensive, as in the case of having the leg over the arm of a chair. The full body steeple where both hands are up and behind the head while seated with or without the figure-four leg cross is both confident and dominant, but also depicts a relaxed disposition. We covered that titling backwards in the chair is dominant and casual, having the hands on hips is to imitate a peacock and appear larger and more attractive dominant or in charge, and that the cowboy pose with thumbs in belt loops popularized by old western’s is macho. We learned that the military man who exposes his torso with his hands, palm in palm to his back delineates power.

We then covered the importance of thumbs and how they show importance and superiority, how fences make great neighbours, and methods we display ownership one of which is by breaking social rules or via body language through control of facial expressions. We found that touching between men symbolizes power plays and social jostling, but between men and women, usually signifies sexual interest and that light touching helps gain compliance even from strangers. We also outlined why we should avoid filling our language with junk instead of simply punctuating a point, how talking fast makes us appear insecure or nervous unlike Barack Obama and how low-pitched masculine voices increased ratings of men’s physical and social dominance.

Tonality And Voice Depth

The differences between the sexes is huge when it comes to our voices. Women’s voices are nearly twice as high pitched as men’s so with only rare exceptions, we all know which sex is speaking even without seeing them. The term “pitch” is defined as the voices “highness” or “lowness” of the voice which is affected by the natural body chemical androgen. Androgen is the male sex hormone which is also tied to physical prowess and aggressiveness and also loosely tied to a competitor’s health and vigor.

In 2005 Anthropologist David Puts used voice recordings of men to study the relationship between the tone of the voice and men’s attractiveness. He was able to increase and decrease the pitch of the voices using computer software to make the recording more or less dominant. Puts found that low-pitched masculine voices increased ratings of men’s physical and social dominance. He also found that men who felt they were more dominant than their competitors tended to lower their voices when speaking with them. Additionally, men who had deeper voices also reported having had more sexual partners over the year previous to the study. Naturally, women have also been shown to prefer men with lower pitched voices for short-term sexual relationships. Voice pitch can also help men rise in social dominance. For men, this means plenty. It means that lowering the voice can lead to a better attractiveness rating in the eye of women and can also be used as a tool to build dominance and leadership.

The pitch of the human voice also varies with emotional state. Even actors are able to portray different feelings based on their voice. You can imagine a father with his baby where he draws out his voice and makes it more like mom so he can grab his infants attention. Women can also lower their voices to be more like dad to scorn their children or conversely screech at them when they are really upset. The tendency to raise the pitch of the voice at the end of each sentence to make all statements seem like questions, is a bad habit adopted frequently by young women. If carried into adulthood, it can be disastrous in a business context. People read this inflection as a signal of insecurity and believe that you are unsure about what you are saying. In a business context, it is always best to be direct and act with conviction.

Speed Of Speech

If you have ever critically examined a politician speak you have noticed how slowly and deliberately they work. In his bid for candidacy in 2008, Barack Obama used some of the most eloquent speech patterns of anyone in recent times. He spoke very slowly and used pauses often to show his dominance. He wasn’t afraid to pause and leave his audience wanting which made his presence much more powerful and placed much more emphasis on the fewer words he used. People that are awkward will speak much more quickly and rush their thoughts. Very few speakers can think as fast as their mouth can run. Inevitably speed talkers end up chucking a foot in their mouth on their way to the finish line. Use words more sparingly and choose your words more carefully. When listening, note the speed with which people speak to effectively measure their perceived or real level of dominance.

The Power Of The Pause

Using fillers such as “umms” and “ahhhs” or “You know what I’m talking about.” weaken speech. The simple solution is to inject more pauses. Instead of filling your language with junk, punctuating the point with a pause can be so much more effective. The mind can only work so fast and a tongue stuck in overdrive can lead to disaster. Our perception of time also changes while under pressure. As our heart races, four to fives seconds can feel like an eternity! For some, even speaking to a small group of three or four can seem like a large audience, applying even more pressure. However, pauses in speech can increase our credibility significantly as people are given more time to process the information we have given them.

The best speakers know that they won’t be cut off and this lack of fear (if this is the reason for the filler sounds) is notably absent. Filling the silence with words indicates to others that you are tentative, unsure and less dominant and in control. The only function filler words serve, is to dilute the words we do say, and make the entire collection of words less powerful. Don’t be afraid to leave an audience with silence as you collect your thoughts. Be sure to take time to breath, and therefore think, and use dialogue in short bursts followed by pauses and reflection. Alpha men and women are never afraid of silence, it is their ally and speaking at a half rate is not a terrible strategy either. It gives them twice as much time to think and also builds a huge amount of credibility.

Listening to someone who uses good speech rate, tone, and pitch, on the other hand, can be inspiring. Politicians are especially adept at the pause. Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic race used pause more effectively than any other U.S. presidential candidate in recent time. His speech so much resembled a priest addressing his congregation, that it was startling and even frightening. He paused frequently to allow the crowd to cheer or stir beckoning for more.

Touching Heals Us Both

A warm embrace makes our body release positive hormones.

A warm embrace makes our body release positive hormones.

According to the research, healing happens just by holding hands and hugging. Men and women can both be made more healthy just by sharing touch. In a study by Dr. James Coan, a researcher from the University of Virginia who measured the response of men warned of an electric shock as they were placed in a MRI machine showed that holding the hand of a spouse actually helped them turn off part of the brain so they felt less distress. The handholding reduced agitation in the hypothalamus which is responsible for producing stress hormones. Over time, stress hormones can weaken the immune system and lead to sickness.

For women, a long and affectionate hug from men releases the bonding hormone oxytocin which helps reduce blood pressure and helps the health of the heart. Men, try this for yourself. The next time your wife or girlfriend start into you, give her a long embrace. At first she will squirm and appear to suffer, but after a few seconds she will begin to accept the hug and her brain will release oxytocin. Soon, she will forget her reasons for feeling so upset. It’s a dirty trick, but very effective, and your wife might even thank (me)!

For men however, snuggling is slightly (a lot) less powerful, and where hugs leave off, sex takes over. For men, oxytocin surges up to fives times that of normal immediately before he reaches orgasm. In a study at Queen’s University in Belfast on nearly one thousand middle aged men followed over a decade, it was found that men who had sex at least three times a week had a fifty percent reduction in risk of heart attack or stroke. Those who reported the most frequent orgasms had a death rate of one-and-a-half less then less sexually active men. So for both sexes touch can be very effective for the health, although the currency of touch differs significantly amongst the sexes. Of course, there’s really no reason a good long hug can’t turn into something much more!

Touching To Get What You Want.

Touching is a primitive grooming gesture.

Touching is a primitive grooming gesture.

A study by Chris Keinke in 1980 revealed that touch can influence compliance with a request. In the study, an experimenter left a dime in a phone booth in a Boston airport. As the subjects emerged from the airport the experimenter asked for the return of their dime. It was found that compliance was more frequent when the request was accompanied by a light touch on the arm. A similar study in 1982 by Joel Brockner and colleagues showed comparable findings but specify that only sixty three percent of the non-touched returned the dime, whereas ninety six percent of those that were touched returned the dime.

Further research shows that justification that accompanying a light touch also helps in compliance. Therefore, we can add to the effectiveness of touching by briefly outlining our reasoning. It might go something like “I’ve left a dime here, and I really need it to make an important phone call.” followed by a light touch of the arm or forearm “Have you seen it”. This approach would have the most significant results. Other studies show similar results when people are asked to sign a petition or in a super market when asked to sample a new product. In the study, half of the shoppers were briefly touched, while the other half was not. The results show that, not only were people more likely to test the food, but they were also more likely to buy the product as well. Touching customers in a store also resulted in increased shopping time and more positive evaluation of the store. Patrons of taverns in the U.S. who were touched spent more time drinking and also consumed more alcohol then patrons that were not touched by the staff. In reference to tipping behaviour, touch was also a factor. Patrons that were touched by the waiter or waitress were far more likely to tip and to also tip higher. It seems that slight touching of a stranger on the upper arm has a very powerful affect on cooperation. The effects of touch has been widely studied and the influence it has on behaviour and requests are conclusive, touching really can help you get what you want from others.

Touching Between And Amongst The Sexes

Touching influences how we feel about people.

Touching influences how we feel about people.

Studies show that touching between men, especially in the workplace, is usually related to power plays and social jostling. An employer will place his hand on the shoulder or back of an employee to reaffirm his status while offering encouragement. Such displays are inappropriate in reverse and wouldn’t usually be tolerated. If touching is well received though, it indicates that strong rapport is being built between the ranks and a promotion might be forthcoming. Men can use touch, as a means to raise their status by initiating it against men of slightly higher status than them. If done tactfully, it can create a leveling effect and force them to reevaluate the rank they have attributed to you. If touching is done incorrectly, it will catch high status individuals off guard producing a negative effect that can be difficult or impossible to correct. Men, overall, rate touching less positively as a rule when compared to women, so touching initiated against men should be sparse.

Touching between men and women often outlines sexual interest and when women touch each other, it is often done out of friendship or to extend sympathy or formulate bonds. Family members also use touching such as hugs and kisses to display affection. Touching comforts are different from person to person and also of different cultures. The kiss hello for example is commonplace in Switzerland, Southern Europe, Latin America and the Mediterranean. It is uncommon in North America, Asia and some of Northern and Western Europe. Localized kiss hellos happens in Miami and Quebec for example and even in regional neighbourhoods such as with Italian or Hispanics. As far as hand holding goes, it is commonplace in the Middle East to symbolize friendship and respect when done between adult men. Even President George Bush was spotted holding Saudi’s crown Prince Abdullah’s hand which scored points with the locals, but became water cooler material for people in the U.S.

The Dominant Control Their Faces

Extremely dominant individuals will smile far less then subordinate people because their disposition requires them to do so. They don’t want to appear emotional, because emotions stem from feelings and dominant people have none! Of course this isn’t entirely true, they do show emotions, but the emotions they do disclose via facial expressions are limited and usually meant to show that they are reserved and in control.
Dominant people will use disapproving frowns, snarls or pursed lips. They might squint while in conversation, or avoid eye contact altogether, or even hold prolonged unblinking eye contact. Dominant people can also hold a blink for longer periods of time as if to temporarily shut the world out. To disarm this “extended blinker” try moving one step to the side while they are in mid blink. It is sure to freak them out!

To summarize, being social isn’t a huge priority to a dominant person, they are more concerned with maintain control of others around them instead of trying to make friends or maintain strong emotional bonds. Dominant people figure that whatever socialization is will find them so they won’t go looking for it. Obviously, in business and in life certain characteristics held by dominant people are important, but extremities in any facet is nearly always counterproductive. Showing confidence by holding eye contact is important, but maintaining too much eye contact such as what an extremely dominant person might do, such that it sends shivers down the spine, sends the reverse message. It can negate the existence of others as people, turning them into objects, and seem to cut through them.

Ways of responding to dominance is by using more open body language to disarm them. Cutting through their rigidity with jokes and light hearted humour is another great way to put them into a good mood and break their serious attitude. When trying to break dominant people it is important to avoid submitting from the start, instead try to build an equal footing to foster their respect. You can try to out-stare them by looking at the bridge of their nose instead of their eyes, which can really unsettle them. However, fighting fire with fire in this manner is risky, at best, and requires one to put on a possibly uncomfortable show. The safest alternative is to just ignore their negativity and play yourself up as even more friendly trying to find common interests to help build rapport.
Breaking down touch barriers can also help, but again, this is risky. Touching breaks shields down and the most dominant of people will be taken aback unless the touching is warranted and tactfully executed. When you touch a dog, be prepared for the bark!

Dominance By Setting And Breaking Social Rules

Rules are always created by, and then in turn, broken by dominant individuals! Dominant individuals are the rule makers, not the rule followers. It’s sad but true, that police officers enjoy greater luxuries than regular citizens. Just ask any policemen what they do if the get pulled over for speeding. Do you really think they get a ticket? I won’t get into absolutes here, but I do personally know two officers who have explained to me that a flash of the badge gets them off every time. I would expect this to be the norm, not the exception, but there is no empirical way to be certain.

This sort of logic all starts at home, as parents make and break their own rules routinely. Is it any surprise that whinny children have whinny parents? Even small children can readily pick-out these injustices, but since they are still highly dependent on their parents to feed, house and cloth them, they, put up only a small amount of resistance. As children reach their teenage years, these inconsistencies are tolerated less and less by them as they tend to set their own course. They are separating themselves from their parents and taking on their own dominance characteristics, naturally, controlling inconsistent parents see this as disrespect.

This isn’t unlike what happens when dominant people meet as adults. Dominant people will often interrupt others or speak over them, casually swear in the wrong company and generally act inappropriately without fear of consequence. Dominance can also take the form of belittling and criticizing others, and holding thoughts such as “I’m more important then you”. It can also include ridiculing others and their possessions, such as their cars or occupations.

Touching also has rules which can be broken in order to set others in their place. A pat on the back can be disingenuous when used in certain context, whereas a light punch on the shoulder can be uplifting to a buddy. Punching can be annoying if done repeatedly to exercise control. There is a pretty clear line between being dominant in a good way versus being belligerent.

Displays Of Ownership And Territory To Indicate Dominance

“Fences make great neighbours” seems like a great truism for our day and we see just as many fences going up as we do houses. Humans are very social, but it is also obvious that we are deeply territorial. While in public, a wife might display ownership of her husband by hooking her arm around his, or he might throw an arm around her just the same. We show that an automobile that we are proud of is ours by leaning up against it or placing a foot on its bumper or ownership of a desk by tossing our feet up on top of it. We display ownership of our houses and personal affair by adding personal touches and might even block the entry to our homes by solicitors through clogging the doorway with our bodies.

Territorial lines are drawn everywhere in our lives from the particularities of our offices and automobiles, right down to the rooms in our own homes, and whom has access to them. We even have boundaries around our bodies which we protect rigorously. The more dominant the individual, the more apt they are to have and hold rigid boundaries about their personal space and possessions. For example, walking into your boss’s office and sitting in his chair won’t come with a welcome reception. But amongst friends, this type of chair stealing happens frequently and can even become a game, due largely to the fact that you and your friends are of equal status. It wouldn’t be uncommon for the boss’s children to play this game with their dad, so in some context, stealing territory is perfectly tolerable with all people.

Only sometimes does first come – first serve, apply to territories. Squatter’s rights as it where is also organized by hierarchy. Those with higher rank can often force others to move, even just by their presence. Sitting at the head of a table is fine so long as you are the highest rank to date, but if someone of higher rank appears, it’s customary to relinquish, or at least offer the seat to them. Members of a staff who are close in rank can sometimes power play each other for these seats at the boardroom table in attempt to move up. The body language in these situations can become very potent as the desires of each party becomes more evident. Your office staff knows which seats are most coveted!
Leaders also get permission to move through doorways first and walk in front of groups instead of follow, and it is customary to allow them to do so. The exception, as always, comes when we wish to usurp their position, challenge their authority, or try to build equality where we might trade dominance rights back and forth.

Placing objects such as jackets and brief cases on a seat can hold it and delineate temporary ownership. It is often easier and more polite to force an actual person to move than to move their unattended personal items to usurp their space. Anyone who has spent anytime at a laundry mat knows how piercing the stares and looks can be when you remove clothing from an un-attended dryer. Break-and-enter-victims complain most, not about being robbed of their possessions, but rather about feeling of violation. It is unnerving to have had someone enter their personal space and hence territory without their permission. Territoriality is a big part of the human repertoire. We rarely think about ownership of people, but placing an arm over someone, playfully messing up their hair or guiding them to where we want them to go by placing a hand to their back, as a parent would his child, are just a few ways that we show others that we own and control them.

Bragging is an appropriate word that describes dominant behaviour in the same context with ownership. Dominance is also not the same as confidence. Dominance just means that someone has specific ideas about how they should be treated whereas confidence is a state of mind where a person remains unshaken emotionally despite what happens externally. Therefore, dominant people can still harbour insecurities about themselves which is evident through ownership because they will spend a lot of time talking about, or drawing attention to their stuff. Naturally, this sort of thing happens subconsciously, or even out of habit. Touching or fondling an expensive watch or piece of jewelry, or going out of their way to be seen in an expensive car are just two examples of flaunting. Truly confident people have no need to show-off to others, their achievements are grand enough to speak for themselves and their earned success emanates from them through their nonverbal behaviour. There’s a fine line between being cocky or arrogant and having to flaunt it in a way that others will find offensive, and being confident, which is exuded seemingly naturally of which people find magnetic. Confidence is one of those things that we all know it when we see it. Dominance that is justified by accomplishments is certainly more tolerable, and with the addition of compassion and empathy, can make all the difference in people’s acceptance of other’s dominance and the behaviour that follows.

Dominance is also expressed through claiming stake to valuable items, or the prevention of touching certain things, or even occupying certain space. Preventing others from doing things, even at random is a luxury afforded to, and by, powerful people. Even when seating is unassigned we often see the same people day-after-day sitting in the same seats. This may have to do with maintain peace when it happens on a first come first served basis, but when there is a shortage of quality positions, as there most often is, we expect to see more dominant players jockey for more highly desirable areas. This is exactly what does happen and because we live in a capitalist society, it happens everywhere and often. Those higher in the ranks will have the best parking spots and the biggest offices, with the best view.

Thwarting dominance by ownership is fairly simple but also a possibly caustic affair. It can be done by stealing a seat which will be seen as an invasion of territory, it could include getting into their personal space, leaning on their cars, putting feet on their furniture or desk or being overly-friendly with them. Being intimate with someone they are close to, such as a current or past romantic partner, or as in a father-daughter relationship, his daughter, are all ways to fight dominance head on! Obviously, you must be careful what you choose, as head-to-head dominance struggles are the beginnings of war! When there is an imbalance of power between dominant people, one party will quickly succeed to the other, but when two parties are evenly match, or believe that they are, the struggle can draw out indefinitely producing emotional of even physical injury. So instead of antagonizing your dominant counterparts, instead work on building your own dominance independently of their through confident body language, examples of which are peppered throughout this book!