It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“When people have power, they act the part. Powerful people smile less, interrupt others, and speak in a louder voice. When people do not respect the basic rules of social behavior, they lead others to believe that they have power, according to a study in the current Social Psychological and Personality Science.” (“Breaking Rules Makes You Seem Powerful,” Science Daily, 5/20/2011)
I shouldn’t be surprised that powerful people don’t adhere to accepted norms of polite behavior. It’s been proven time and time again that powerful men don’t play by the standard marriage rules, so why would they adhere to any other relationship principles?
Given that powerful types tend to behave rudely—interrupting others, excessively frowning—people who want to be perceived as powerful (regardless of their actual status) need only to emulate this crappy conduct. Any Joe Schmo off the street (side note: I just googled the correct spelling of “Schmo” only to get lost in 15 minutes of YouTube video of The Joe Schmo Show. Anyone else remember that FX goodie? The fake reality series, a la The Truman Show? Kristen Wiig starred! But anyway…) can act like a douchebag and suddenly get mistaken for a guy who “gets to make decisions.”
Of course, this kind of behavior is a pretty quick route to nofriendsville. Which I guess is why it’s so lonely at the top. But are the two mutually exclusive? Do you have to be a grumpy interrupter to be powerful? I’ve always been a believer in the whole “be nice to people, you never know who you are talking to” mindset. But then again, my powerful ranking is at approximately zero, so what do I know?
It’s sort of fascinating that when one meets someone new, she has to immediately make a choice: be perceived as a pleasant human being, or be perceived as powerful. Smile, listen, engage, make friends or frown, interrupt, talk down, establish rank.
This study gives me entirely new insight to this guy I encountered at a bar a few months ago. I was meeting a potential BFF for dinner. I thought it was a one-on-one girl date, but when I arrived it became clear she had a more friendly group gathering in mind. (This is a whole other friend-dating dilemma: When you think it’s a friend-date and she thinks it’s the-more-the-merrier. A topic for another time.) One of the diners was the coworker of my friend’s friend. My girl-date had never met him. You’d think under such a circumstance he would be polite. Instead he called me stupid within the first five minutes of meeting, and called my friend a JAP, having met her for all of, maybe, 15 minutes. (You’ll be glad to know she tore him a new one… Said friend is much more confrontational than I.) I’ve never understood why anyone would behave like that on first meeting—now I think maybe he had decided to go the powerful route? Is that a manly thing? Or maybe I am giving him an undeserved benefit of the doubt?
Do you think plenty of people would choose power over friends? Or, more specifically, perceived power of perceived friendliness? Think it’s totally gender based?