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Body Language to Convey Status, Hierarchy or Dominance

By: Julie-Ann Amos - Updated: 13 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Status Hierarchy Dominance Body Language

Body language and the power of non-verbal messages are quite noticeable when used to convey status, hierarchy, or dominance. Many people consciously develop and use their skills in these areas as a way to advance careers, improve their lives, or just generally exert all kinds of control over other people and different situations.

Body Language to Convey Status
Height and the appearance of size are primary non-verbal cues used to convey status. The taller you appear, the greater your status is perceived to be. However, you don’t have to be a physically tall person to use height to convey status. Simple actions such as standing more erect, holding your shoulders back and square, and holding your head upright are all ways of making yourself appear taller and bigger.

Touch is also a way to convey status in many situations. In general, when people interact the person with the higher status is most likely to be the one to initiate any kind of touch. This might include reaching out to shake hands, placing a hand on another’s arm during conversation, and the like. The power of touch to convey status even extends to observers of the same interaction, because if you are observed to initiate touch then you are most likely to be perceived by the observer as having a higher status.

Body Language to Convey Hierarchy
Hierarchy is somewhat similar to status, but is different in the sense that hierarchy is often associated with structure or position within a group. The president of a club is farther up in the hierarchy than the treasurer, and many kinds of body language can be used to portray this difference.

Let’s start with seating arrangements. Anytime you attend a dinner, a business meeting, or even take a trip via airplane, seating arrangements are a powerful indicator of hierarchy. The person highest up will generally sit at the head of the table, with others communicating their place in the hierarchy by how close or how far they sit from the highest person. A skilled leader will use this to his or her advantage, sitting in the ‘power’ position when necessary but consciously choosing a lesser position when discussion that is more open is desired. And of course, in an airplane the first class section is located toward the front of the plane, closest to the door as well as the pilot.

Body Language to Convey Dominance
Dominance is a word commonly associated with power, control, and command actions. A person may exhibit dominance in a way that is positive or in a way that is negative, depending on the intent and the outcome of the interaction. The communication of dominance can include relative elevation, body positioning, and general efforts to control an interaction.

Let’s start with elevation. A classic portrait of dominance is a teacher standing in front of a classroom full of students, all seated at their desks. The teacher occupies a higher elevation position and thus is clearly the dominant person in the room. Public speakers also use elevation to communicate dominance, preferring to speak from up on a podium and usually insisting anyone else on the stage must be seated. You can see the issue of elevation displayed in the real world the next time you watch a debate among politicians. When you see the group as a whole, all of the candidates will appear to be the same height; that’s because each campaign has arranged for its candidate to stand on a podium that matches the height of an opponent.

Body positioning and efforts at control often go together. Moving in closer to someone is a dominant action, as is breaking into a conversation or making a point of speaking first. Even the position of a person’s hand indicates dominance; the next time you see a couple walking along holding hands, notice which person’s hand is toward the front in the upper position. Chances are this person is more dominant in the relationship than the other person.Regardless of status, hierarchy, or dominance, body language is a powerful tool for communicating non-verbal messages. When used consciously and appropriately it can give you a real boost toward whatever goal you seek.

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