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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Man standing

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Next time you go to meet someone, say, at their home, office, or some place where your host is sitting and there are additional places for guests to sit (hence not in cubicle), don’t sit and just continue conversation while standing. If the conversation is more than mere perfunctory and is expected to take time, then even better. Notice if and how soon your host requests you to sit down. Mostly they do, and it’s polite to do so. However, decline the request saying that you are comfortable standing or just ignore. More often than not, you will be asked again. Is it mere politeness operating or there is sublime power play at work?

A man standing while you are sitting is at elevated level and while he looks down at you, you look up at him, making you subconsciously inferior to him in power game. This feeling is uncomfortable to people and hence possibly repeated requests to level the playing field. This works even when there is no context for power play nor there is any such intention from the person standing. I sometimes stand when I am visiting someone for a while simply because I sit otherwise in my sedentary job and want to stretch my legs. Nevertheless I am requested to sit down frequently and I do the same when someone else converses standing in front of me. Appearing threatening and imposing by looking down is trick in subliminal coercion and works even when not intended because we are wired that way.

This very, and few others, tricks were part of a a hilarious scene in 1940s brilliant comic movie The Great Dictator in which a Jewish barber is mistaken for and installed as Hitler. When a foreign leader comes to meet Hitler, his office arranges meeting “by means of applied psychology” so that Hitler can impress upon his domineering personality. Seating is such that foreign leader looks up at Hitler while he looks at him down. Entrance is such that former has to walk full length of room to confront later while later enters from shorter private gate. Hitler is required to be first in greeting, entering and exiting so that other seems to follow. Of course, things don’t turn out that way.

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