Dealing with a aggressive and dominant host or interviewer can be a difficult task, but worry not, we will go through such an example.
First watch this video and see what social dynamics you can see going on:
The short of it is that the host -Star Jones, the de facto “head bit** there- aggress and Neil Strauss evades.
Neil strategy is to avoid confrontation, try to isolate Star and charm the rest of the group. “Be like water” Bruce Lee would have said, very typical of the Charmer types (The Art of Seduction).
Neil does rather well in charming the group and is relatively successful in isolating Star, but at the very heavy price of being socially gored by her dominant, vindictive barbs.
Let’s see then some great strategies he could have used to deal with an aggressive host:
- 1. Nip It in The Bud: Set The Precedent
- 2. Respond in Kind
- 3. Use His Behavior to Shame Him
- 4. Scold Them With Moral Authority
- 5. Use Nonverbals Against Them
1. Nip It in The Bud: Set The Precedent
Get Into Fight Stance to Avoid Fighting
It’s true that the beginning of social interactions sets the tone for what is about to come, and it is particularly true with an aggressive opponent. Imagine that beginning as him sniffing you out and testing your mettle.
He will try to make an off hand remark, or maybe force the upper hand in the handshake. And if you let it slip without doing anything about it the aggressor will feel he’s just been green-lighted to tooling you.
Neil Strauss On The View
Neil is too passive at the beginning and sets a bad precedent.
Star shows the first aggressive sign with a disparaging remark (yeah right): only supremely confident individuals belittle so openly.
She then uses thumb display, speaks loudly over the hand-clapping, and with a reproaching tone turns to Neil putting her elbow on the desk.
These are all nonverbal power moves as if to say “what the fu** is that all about, explain!”
Neil’s movements are smooth in his reply, but no good execution will change the fact that the whole cluster -including his verbals- are submissive.
Here’s what he could have done to show he’s no pushover instead:
- Touch Her: Touching first is a sign of confidence. He could have smiled -not laughed- at her initial joke while lightly placing a hand on her back or upper arm. Touching is a simple, not aggressive way of showing confidence and dominance.
- Imply She’s Dumb: Instead of saying “I’ll explain” he could have smiled and said “Nice intro. It’s not exactly like that, lemme clear that up“. This implies Star got it all wrong with her generalization and sets him as the authority with the straight facts.
The Theory of Aggression
Before we dig deeper into the practical techniques it’s great to understand the theory behind aggressive interactions and the escalation they often follow.
1 You’re Dumbstruck and do Nothing
For most people, and especially if you are a non aggressive person, the moment you are first aggressed will leave you at a loss of words.
Most people in in this situation withdraw within themselves and move on pretending nothing happened.
2. Aggressor is Emboldened
Seeing the victim has no answer to their antics emboldens the aggressor and often leads to more aggression. This is why you need to push back right on.
If it’s in a romantic relationship, this can often be the woman actually, and her aim is not usually to hurt you, but a misguided attempt to get you emotionally involved when she feels you are withdrawing.
Outside of romantic relationship, the aim is usually to hurt you, make you look bad or dominate you for their own gain.
3. Aggression Repeats
In either scenario, you will often find yourself in a situation where your boundaries are continually encroached upon.
You can will feel victimized and lost, but since the precedents have been set, you can feel like it’s too late to do something.
So the victim hopes the aggressor will not exaggerate, that he will he show some restraint and that it will soon be over.
But it rarely stops by itself: the aggressor often enjoys harassing or he can have something to gain in keeping a dominant/dominated relationship.
4. The Victim’s Psychology
Some Victims often defend their aggressor to cover up their inability to stand up. They will say “oh it was nothing” (we’ve already seen this behavior here from Fredo in The Godfather, check it out again).
What they are really trying to say though is “no, their behavior is OK, it’s not me who can’t do anything about it“.
When brought to extreme cases, people can even develop real feelings for their harassers (captor bonding syndrome).
5. Aggression Escalates
The next step is usually a much bigger aggression. It can sometimes happen because the victim tried to undermine the aggressor with passive aggression or sometimes simply because he’s emboldened enough by the many smaller aggression to take it to the next level.
While the smaller previous harassment might have seemed justifiable somewhat, the big one is more obvious and more humiliating. For example you boss was raising your voice in private, but now he just berated you in front of everyone.
In Neil Strauss’ case the first major instance of escalation was when Star Jones shouted orders while pouncing the table with her hand:
This is your chance to step up to the plate now. Let’s get back to the techniques:
2. Respond in Kind
Fight Fire with Fire
Responding in kind in this case would have meant that Neil turned around, started smacking his own hand on the table, leaned on towards Star and said “How would you feel if I did this to you lady? Probably bad because it’s very rude and disrespectful, right?”.
Chances are she would have been dumbfounded on her own and, put on the spot, backtracked with an apology. And if she kept up with her offensive antics she’d be playing into your hand: you are painting her as the ill-manned one and she’s just proving it to everyone.
Keep cool and repeat she’s very rude as she shames herself by raising her tone (repeat: “yes you are”, “yes you are”).
3. Use His Behavior to Shame Him
And Recruit Everyone on Your Side
With this technique you don’t turn into an aggressor yourself, but call on everyone around to side with you by playing the “empowered victim”, a very neat and effective way of quickly turning the aggressor into the aggressed.
Simply plainly state what she’s just done is very vulgar and uncivil and you feel insulted (notice the word usage: “uncivil” carries a wallop of power). Demand an explanation of why she’s behaving like that and be expectant for an apology.
It’s less dominant than Respond in Kind but it can put more pressure on the aggressor because it’s not anymore “you VS him” but “everyone VS him”.
Watch Tom Cruise executing it.
Notice at the beginning Tom IS falling for the accommodating, victimized road by pretending it was OK (it’s a natural reaction). But after the initial surprise he quickly changes tack and uses the shaming technique. Notice the people around naturally siding with him.
Note: he then moves to aggression, which was a mistake as he comes across vindictive and butt hurt and he should have avoided.
4. Scold Them With Moral Authority
Hit and Move Along
This is possibly the simplest technique to use.
You state it was rude and then move on. It’s so powerful because it sets yourself as the judge and the moral authority. It works great when it’s indeed truet hey were rude because your moral authority is backed by a powerful ally: reality. And everyone around will be silently agreeing with you.
In Neil Strauss’ case he would have turned around slowly, looked at her for a second and said “wooh, that’s very rude of you”. And then moved along with his speech. She would have probably gone crazy, but again that would have been a good thing.
The idea is that you judge and then move along leaving the aggressor in the dust. You communicate you’re a superior man who doesn’t get dragged in the swaps by the aggressive pigs.
5. Use Nonverbals Against Them
Getting rid of someone without uttering a word is even more powerful than speaking.
Dominate with Touching
In Neil’s situation he could have turned around while still speaking and without missing a bit put his palm either on her arm or on her back. Since she hadn’t touched him yet it would have been a powerful way of invading her personal space first in a very socially savvy and non overtly aggressive way. The sub-communication being: “I keep going and ignore it, but you don’t be such a rabid dog, chill”
Shame With Facial Expression
Similar as with Moral Authority Judgement, but you point an imaginary finger at them without speaking a word.
Neil could have stopped for 3 seconds, made a disgusted facial expression and then resumed. Just make sure that your expression is obvious enough that everyone will notice and take a long enough pose to highlight it.
More INTERVIEWING DOMINANCE TIPS
For your own benefits, here are a few more things Neil Strauss should have done better:
Commit and Stick to it
He says a couple of times “oh my God I can’t believe I’m saying this“, only for Star to prod him and Neil following suit.
Tentative decision making make you look insecure. If you’re on a show to talk about something, talk about it. If you don’t wanna talk about, don’t.
But don’t dilly dally.
Don’t Finger Point
It’s been well researched that using your index finger while speaking makes you less liked by the audience.
Don’t Kiss Up – Just Don’t
As we’ve already seen at the extreme end of abusive relationships people can grow fondness and love for their oppressor. But we all have this tendency even in less extreme situations (Leil Lowndes mentions it it too).
It’s the tendency that, out of fear, makes us hope that if we extend our olive branch and laugh at their joke, or tell them how cool they are.. Then maybe they’ll like us and we can be friends on more equal footing.
Forget it, you’ll never be on equal footing unless you stand up to them. And they will only see your kissing up as your final capitulation.
Look how Star derides and brushes off Neil Strauss when he kisses up to her:
And here are a few more pointers on the power dynamics of the situation:
The hosts will most often have a few advantages on you:
- Home Advantage Both in terms of comfort levels and even testosterone levels
- Final Authority The host has the strong power position of being on his show, making him the final authority -or feeling as one-
- Asks Questions The person who asks question is inherently more powerful than the person who has to answer.
Neil Strauss Advantages:
- He sits in the center
The center position is the position of highest power and influence, and Neil has it.
The Second World War gave the USA the (unofficial) supreme leadership of the (Western) World. And the below picture is emblematic and representative of that shift of power, with the US president sitting in the middle and Stalin to his right.
It’s even more powerful when there are more than just two people to your side, because it says you are the leader of a whole group (just think of Jesus in the Last Supper).
- He’s the only man
Being the only one of your gender is a natural attention grabber. Even normally not so attractive men or women receive an immediate, major attention boost that can easily propel them at the center of the attention.
- Captivating Topic
The topic he talks about captivates and grab people’s attention. Particularly women’s attention, and he played that card very well to ingratiate the group.
- He’s the “Subject Matter Expert”
Neil is the expert of the discussion topic (but just as a note, his book The Game is terrible for dating advice).
And the one who’s viewed as the expert in the room always has a huge power boost. If you’re the expert people come to depend on you and listen to your advice, and that naturally gives you power.
Interviewing DOMINANCE: THE mindset
There are two major lessons learned I would take away from this video which you can implement in your life:
Stand by Your Deeds
Neil Strauss was insecure because he felt weird and ashamed that his book was about picking up women. He felt like he needed to justify himself. That a was a major reason why he was on the back foot.
To be confident, it’s key that you do what you believe in and that you own up to what you do. Sign your work at the end of each day, says John Maxwell (Sometimes You Win Sometimes You Learn). Mistakes and blunders included. When you can do that, your confidence will skyrocket because you’ll be proud of yourself and you ain’t got nothing to hide.
And the next someone will look at you as if to say “explain” you’ll reply “explain what, I don’t have anything to explain and least of all to you, what are you, the moral police?“.
Nobody Has the Right to Intimidate You
It doesn’t matter whether you expect aggression or not. You are a respectful human being and you know in your bones that you don’t accept that aggressive and rude behavior.
If it means escalating and walking out from a show, then be it.
Watch the related video break down here: