We usually think of rule breakers and rebels as those standing up to the powerful, but according to psychology the opposite is true. If you want to appear like you have a lot of personal clout, disregarding some of the dictates of polite society is the way to go.

"Things as simple as putting your feet on the table, throwing down your bag and arriving late all give others the impression that you are more powerful," PsyBlog recently reported, citing research out of the University of Amsterdam.

Frustrating but true

To determine the effect of small acts of rule breaking on perceptions of power, the research team conducted a series of experiments that asked volunteers to evaluate the personal power of people in imagined or videotaped situations (a visitor to an office who helps himself to coffee or a cafe patron who puts a foot up on a chair, for example) and in role plays.

The results were clear -- if a little annoying. "Rule breakers were seen as more in control, and powerful compared to people," says the research release. Frustratingly to fans of common decency, "acting rudely also leads people to see power."

The team's explanation for their findings was simple. Only the powerful can get away with such behavior and onlookers know it. "Norm violators are perceived as having the capacity to act as they please," they wrote.


If you're not the type to scoff at other people's needs, show up late, and spread yourself out over two or three train seats (just stop that one, people!), is there anything useful in these results for you? Even the respectful and decent can take something from the study.

First off, we all need to beware our prejudices. Knowing that we're likely to see those that disregard both rules and others as more powerful, we're better armed to stop ourselves from being seduced by confident but ultimately unworthy leaders.

Second, if you're looking to come across as powerful yourself, this research offers ideas. No, it's not an excuse to act like a jerk, but it does suggest that small violations of norms (crazy socks, a more relaxed posture, choosing the bean bag chair over the serious executive one) might actually help you come across as having clout if that's the image you're looking to project.

Published on: Jul 21, 2016
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