Power and dominance

Non verbal expressions of power and dominance are gestures or motions that assert one´s authority over another.


The colors one wears affect other´s perceptions of one´s authority:

purple: people of high status adorn their clothing with purple to distinguish themselves as noble or wealthy

people attribute greater authority to others wearing red

It is human to strive for power and dominance in social settings

simple gestures establish authority

A firmer handshake
Better posture
Causing slight interruptions in conversation

can rise authority in group situations

many peers view Non verbal expressions of power and dominance as manipulation for self gain

Their abuse can be disastrous

Men and women have different perceptions of Non verbal expressions of power and dominance

Nodding is misinterpreted in cross gender communication

women interpret a nod as a signal of understanding

men interpret a nod as a signal of agreement

small miscommunications and misinterpretations lead to disagreement and confrontation

Russel (as cited in Dunbar & Burgoon, 2005) describes, “the fundamental concept in social science is power, in the same way that energy is the fundamental concept in physics“. Power and dominance-submission are two key concepts in relationships, especially close relationships where individuals rely on one another to achieve their goals (Dunbar & Burgoon, 2005) and as such it is important to be able to identify indicators of dominance.

Power and dominance are different concepts yet share similarities. Power is the ability to influence behavior (Bachrach & Lawler; Berger; Burgoon et al.; Foa & Foa; French & Raven; Gray-Little & Burks; Henley; Olson & Cromwell; Rollins & Bahr, as cited in Dunbar & Burgoon, 2005) and may or may not be fully evident until challenged by an equal force (Huston, as cited in Dunbar & Burgoon, 2005). Unlike power, that may be latent, dominance is manifest reflecting individual (Komter, as cited in Dunbar & Burgoon, 2005), situational and relationship patterns where control attempts are either accepted or rejected (Rogers-Millar & Millar,as cited in Dunbar & Burgoon, 2005). Moskowitz, Suh, and Desaulniers (1994) mention two similar ways that people can relate to the world in interpersonal relationships: agency and communion. Agency includes status and is a continuum from assertiveness-dominance to passive-submissiveness – it can be measured by subtracting submissiveness from dominance. Communion is a second way to interact with others and includes love with a continuum from warm-agreeable to cold-hostile-quarrelsomeness. Power and dominance relate together in such a way that those with the greatest and least power typically do not assert dominance while those with more equal relationships make more control attempts Dunbar & Burgoon, 2005).

As one can see, power and dominance are important, intertwined, concepts that greatly impact relationships. In order to understand how dominance captures relationships one must understand the influence of gender and social roles while watching for verbal and nonverbal indicators of dominance.