Want to Appear Powerful? Be Rude

appear powerfulEver notice how obnoxious the "Big Dogs" can be? A recent study asked if power allows people to be rude, or if rudeness allows people to appear powerful. Unfortunately, they found that both perceptions are correct. If you're powerful, people will let you get away with being rude. And if you're rude, people will just assume you're powerful.

The research, published in the current edition of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, showed that powerful people smile less, interrupt others and speak in a louder voice. Perhaps it's subconscious, or perhaps powerful people know full well that when they don't respect the basic rules of social behavior, they lead others to believe that they have power -- that they can afford to be above the rules that others feel obliged to follow.

People with power have a very different experience of the world than people without it, according to the study. The powerful have fewer rules to follow and they live in environments of money, knowledge and support. People without power live with threats of punishment and firm limits, says the research team lead by Gerben Van Kleef of the University of Amsterdam.

Is Rudeness a Privilege of Power?

For the study, participants read about a visitor to an office who took a cup of employees' coffee without asking and about a bookkeeper who bent accounting rules. The rule breakers were seen as more in control and powerful compared to people who didn't steal the coffee or didn't break bookkeeping rules.

In addition, participants were asked to watch a video of a man at a sidewalk café putting his feet on another chair, dropping cigarette ashes on the ground and ordering a meal brusquely. They actually thought the man was more likely to "get to make decisions" and able to "get people to listen to what he says" than the people who saw a video of the same man behaving politely.

To top the study off, Van Kleef and colleagues had people come to their lab and interact with a rule follower and a rule breaker. The rule follower was polite and acted normally, while the rule breaker arrived late, threw down his bag on a table and put up his feet. After the interaction, people thought the rule breaker had more power and was more likely to "get others to do what he wants."

"Norm violators are perceived as having the capacity to act as they please," write the researchers.

It's a vicious circle: Power may be corrupting, but showing the outward signs of corruption makes people think you're powerful. Perhaps this is a reflection of bully bluster, and it's up to us to put our foot down, and insist that the powerful behave, which would actually transfer the power back to us.

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This works to a point, but only to the point that the rude person actually has power.
Its takes a remarkably short amount of time to encounter someone who will not put
up with that nonsense when there is no actual power base to draw upon.

The survey was limited in the comparison of two isolated slices of life.
Power is often displayed through displays of wealth, grooming, and body language.

Sometimes it just takes the right look from someone to shut someone else
down. An arched eyebrow can speak volumes and the loud talking rude person just
looks like a baboon in comparison.

June 06 2011 at 7:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
C Dubya

I think the study falls short of fleshing out a lot of gray space. How many people simply mistake confidence, pride, and sharp intellect (loud and right) with it's evil doppelgänger: rudeness, arrogance or obnoxiousness (loud and wrong)?? When the person that the participants observed was being polite versus obnoxious, did he still exude confidence (or swag) or was he just meek, reserved, and quiet? It just doesn't seem like a strong study and even becomes dangerous if the aftermath is more brash ******** in the world with big balls but lacking the substance and skills to get ahead.

In a workplace, I imagine that someone who interrupts or dismisses my ideas for significantly better reasons (or plain excitement, as some just can't help it, to which I've learned to adapt) would be considered much more powerful than someone who has mediocre or awful ideas and acts with similar, poor social skills or etiquette.

As someone used to dealing with people in the Fashion and Entertainment (Creative) industries, I can totally see how this all stacks up and rings true in many situations, as egos and "diva" attitudes are certainly rewarded in several fields (though there has to be at least decent talent backing it up), but in no other industries that I've been in have I seen rudeness linked to power, though I could also see how the rebel or call-the-shots attitude (showing up late, throwing a bag down, and putting feet up), which is not exactly the same as being a rude *******, would give the appearance of power.

June 06 2011 at 7:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to C Dubya's comment
C Dubya

Sorry censor bots, didn't know I couldn't say ASSet-HOLE here. lol.

June 06 2011 at 7:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


June 04 2011 at 8:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sadly I think that there is something to be said for this ... it's weird but true. Over the course of the last year starting an business, i've found that the pattern of being courteous fails when compared to being obnoxious. I 100% disagree with it but I've actually been testing this for the past few months in email correspondence and meetings and the results are amazing! Amazingly, there was a Seinfeld episode on this where George was rude to people and it worked!

That said, I firmly believe (& I have done this for years) that everyone should work as a waiter at some point of their life so that they understand how hard it is to earn a living.

June 03 2011 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Never Give Up

Oh allow me to be rude... this thought process sucks.

June 03 2011 at 4:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you are often rude in restaurants to your server, I guarantee you have eaten phlegm that is not your own.

June 01 2011 at 5:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Remember the credo of the powerless; Don't get mad get even!

May 26 2011 at 6:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What about the rudeness and lies of the OBOMBA administration.

May 25 2011 at 12:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Rude people are douchebags and everybody knows that. These idiots don't fool anybody.

May 24 2011 at 9:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I don't know about Amsterdam rules, but I don't think such behavior would work in most workplaces in the USA. I'm 64 and have worked in various countries and various cities in the US and have never seen anyone who acted in the way described in the article. I really wouldn't advise taking on these characteristics if you are planning to get ahead in most jobs.

May 24 2011 at 5:56 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Cheryl's comment

Not only are your observations spot on, but such behavior would be unacceptable in any Asian context, especially in Japan. My deduction is that the author hasn't included a representative sample and appropriate cultures in his research....poor journalism

May 25 2011 at 8:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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