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Dominant Body Language


Techniques > Using Body Language > Dominant Body Language

Size | Superiority | Greeting | Responding | See also


Dominant body language is related to aggressive body language, though with a less emotional content.

Size signals

The body in dominant stances is generally open, and may also include additional aspects.

Making the body big

Hands on hips makes the elbows go wide and make the body seem larger. So also does standing upright and erect, with the chin up and the chest thrust out. Legs may be placed apart to increase size.

Making the body high

Height is also important as it gives an attack advantage. This can be achieved by standing up straight or somehow getting the other person lower than you, for example by putting them on a lower seat or by your standing on a step or plinth.

Occupying territory

By invading and occupying territory that others may own or use, control and dominance is indicated. A dominant person may thus stand with feet akimbo and hands on hips.

Superiority signals

Breaking social rules

Rulers do not need to follow rules: they make the rules. This power to decide one's own path is often displayed in breaking of social rules, from invasion and interruption to casual swearing in polite company.


Owning something that others covet provides a status symbol. This can be territorial, such as a larger office, or displays of wealth or power, such as a Rolex watch or having many subordinates.

Just owning things is an initial symbol, but in body language it is the flaunting of these, often casually, that is the power display. Thus a senior manager will casually take out their Mont Blanc pen whilst telling their secretary to fetch the Havana cigars.


A dominant act is to disrespect the ownership of others, invading their territory, for example getting to close to them by moving into their body space. Other actions include sitting on their chairs, leaning on their cars, putting feet up on their furniture and being over-friendly with their romantic partners.

Invasion says 'What's yours is mine' and 'I can take anything of yours that I want and you cannot stop me'.

Dominant positions

A dominant person will take higher status physical positions where they can see and be seen by more other people.

If the table is rectangular, they will sit at the end. Likewise, they will sit on a corner seat. They will also stand in the middle of a group where they will have their backs to some people (but will not fear attack).

They will also walk down the middle of a path or corridor and expect others to get out of the way. Negotiations for moving over start a long way off and they signal by not making any moves that others will have to move.

Dominating time

Dominant people will seek to control time more. For example in conversations, they may talk more themselves and deny others time to talk, for example by interruption or leaving early.

Another method is hurrying, talking fast themselves, checking the time and asking that others 'be brief'.

Outside of conversations, they may not be available when you need them but then demand your attention immediately.

Belittling others

Superiority signals are found both in saying 'I am important' and also 'You are not important'. Thus a dominant person may ignore or interrupt another person who is speaking or turn away from them. They may criticize the inferior person, including when the other person can hear them.

They may inspect their fingernails or otherwise show limited attention to the other person. General preening can likewise show a lack of respect. Stroking the chin shows judgement.

Facial signals

Much dominance can be shown in the face, from disapproving frowns and pursed lips to sneers and snarls (sometimes disguised as smiles).

The eyes can be used to stare and hold the gaze for long period. They may also squint, preventing the other person seeing where you are looking. They may also look at anywhere but the other person, effectively saying that 'you are not even worth looking at'. Narrowing eyes shows suspicion or even dislike.

Faces can also look bored, amused or express other expressions that belittle the other person. The head will often move very little.

A surprisingly effective trick is in holding the head still. Most people move their head as they talk and interact with others. We watch the faces of others a great deal and stillness in the head and face signals comfort and lack of anxiety.

Dominant people often smile much less than submissive people.

The 'Alpha face' of the dominant alpha male includes lowered eyebrows (stern, judging), narrowed eyes (evaluating) and a firmly closed mouth with no smile (serious).

Phallic displays

Dominant men will often expose their crotch, effectively saying to other men 'I am safe from attack' or 'my penis is bigger than yours', whilst showing off. They may also be offering 'come and get it!' to women. When women do this, it is to some extent a tease or invitation to men but may also be an emulation of the male display, thus saying 'I am as strong as a man'.

This appears in standing or sitting where the legs are apart. It may be emphasized by scratching or adjusting of the crotch.

The dominant greeting

When people first meet and greet, their first interaction sets the pattern for the future relationship. When a person is dominant here, then they will most likely continue to be dominant.

The handshake

A classic dominant handshake is with the palm down, symbolically being on top. Another form of dominant handshake is to use strength to squeeze the other person.

Holding the other person's hand for longer than normal also shows that you are in control.


Prolonged, unblinking eye contact acts like overplaying the handshake -- it says 'I am powerful, I can break the rules.' The dominant person may alternatively prevent eye contact, saying 'You are beneath me and I do not want even to look at you.'


The person who speaks first often gets to control the conversation, either by talking for longer or by managing the questions.


Bohns and Wiltermuth (2012) found that just putting the body in a dominant position, upright and open, reduces a person's sensitivity to pain, possibly because this increases the sense of control.

Carney, Cuddy and Yap (2010) also found that adopting a powerful pose changes your hormonal levels and increases your propensity to take risks, just as if you were more powerful.

In generalized gender differences, women often make themselves smaller while men spread out. Even when women are seeking equality, this can happen, showing internal processes that not in alignment with their conscious intent.

Responding to dominance

If others display dominant body language you have a range of options.

The simplest response is simply not to submit, which is what they probably want. Continue to appear friendly and ignore their subtle signals.

Another response is to fight dominance with dominance, for example:

  • Out-stare them (a trick here is to look at the bridge of their nose, not their eyes).
  • Touch them, either before they touch you or immediately when they touch you.
  • When they do a power handshake, grab their elbow and step to the side.
  • When they butt in to your speech, speed up, talk more loudly and say 'let me finish!'

Another approach is to name the game. Ask them why they are using dominant body language. A good way to do this is in a curious, unafraid way.

See also

Aggressive body language, Power, Greeting body language, Status, Proxemic Communication


Bohns, V.K. and Wiltermuth, S.S. (2012). It hurts when I do this (or you do that): Posture and pain tolerance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 1, 341-345

Carney, D., Cuddy, A. J. C. and Yap, A. (2010). Power posing: Brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, 21, 1363- 1368.


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