Book Excerpt – The Powerful-Subservient Continuum (from Trust Me: 4 Steps to Authenticity & Charisma)

Secretary of State Dean Rusk, President Lyndon...

Secretary of State Dean Rusk, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara at a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story of power in a room is written in space and height. It is not very different from what pack dogs do, in fact. Look for the alpha dog. He or she will be the highest person in the room if at all possible. It is why kings and queens have had thrones on daises since they began ruling others. I used to ask CEOs I worked with to test this out by convening a meeting at a large conference table with the CEO highly visible in the middle. CEOs typically take the middle of the table, and sometimes the head, to express their power anyway.

Next, I instruct the CEO to sit tall in her seat at the start, but then to gradually sink down in the chair by sliding forward very slowly. The result? Those in the room who want to express their subservience to the CEO unconsciously sink lower and lower in order not to upstage the boss. CEOs have reported to me that they’ve barely been able to contain their amusement as they’ve watched everyone at the table slide slowly toward the floor.

Powerful people also take up more space: they splay their legs out, or their arms, or hog more space in the room. It’s why important people get bigger hotel rooms than lesser folk, and it’s why tall people are statistically more likely to rise higher in their professions than shorter people. The alpha dog strikes again.

Powerful people employ a host of subtler signals of their dominance, from interrupting lesser mortals to talking more, to indulging in longer pauses. They make more eye contact, or less, depending on their choice. In fact, they dominate the eye contact and the physical touch — all the ballet of the second conversation. It’s why it takes training to meet Queen Elizabeth, and when you leave, you have to back out of the room. All of that is simply to express her vast authority over the rest of us.

Powerful people may withdraw physically from a conversation, controlling its tempo and showing their power with this ability. I’ve seen people in a meeting lean back and put their hands behind their head in order to express their superiority over the rest of the room. It’s arrogant but effective. Power in nonverbal display is all about controlling your own behavior and that of others. Once again, this is something that your unconscious is exquisitely attuned to. You will immediately know when you are in the presence of someone who believes she is powerful because of all the signals I’ve described, as well as others, such as your own tendency to be obeisant in front of the person.

How do you take or project authority when you want to do it deliberately?

Stand as tall as you can. Make sure you are the tallest person in the room if you can. Give yourself a taller chair if you’re sitting by adjusting it to the maximum. Move less, and make people come to you. Don’t mirror other people; let them mirror you. Have the window at your back if there is one. Control the distance between you and others. Don’t let them in your space; rather, bring them in when it suits you.

President Lyndon Johnson was famous for using his height and physical closeness to dominate the people around him. He would bring his face within inches of others, violating their intimate space and making them supremely uncomfortable until they gave way. It wasn’t a particularly nice thing to do, but it was effective. Powerful people tend to dominate the conversation, or let a second in command take the conversation, and just listen.

Watch author Nick Morgan introduce 4 steps to a charismatic presentation here.

Source: Author Nick Morgan (2009) extracted from Trust Me: 4 Steps to Authenticity & Charisma. It can be purchased on Amazon and in leading bookstores. This material is reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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