I had just finished the most important elevator pitch of my life.
My audience were the top conference speakers, the movers and shakers of the industry.
To a start up sales guy, it’s dream scenario: get in, make friends and pitch the heavy hitters as an equal. Or so I thought.
The pitch was done. I drop the mic.
The heavy hitters say nothing.
I say nothing.
And then it comes.
“GTFO of Mount Olympus you mere mortal, you’re too beneath us” he says.
He doesn’t actually say it of course, but worse.
He slowly raises his hand instead, turns his face, grimaces a bit, and taps his ear.
He just ear-cupped me.
The Ear Cup & Dominant Body Language
Social interactions have this tendency: the most powerful people make other people move, with less.
Think about, what’s the most powerful sign of power? It’s the “pollice verso”, the idea that an ancient emperor decided upon life and death with a mere hand gesture (similar for guards at concentration camps: an amazing story here )
Luckily we don’t face similar scenarios often, but the concept is the same: the bigger the difference between the Power Mover gesture and your reaction, the bigger the social status difference.
And that’s how the “Repeat Please” Ear Cupping is such a dominant body language gesture: he puts a finger on his ear (low effort nonverbal), you repeat your whole spiel (high effort).
Here’s a gangster movie example. Paulie’s status as the big boss is conveyed (a bit theatrically) by the fact he doesn’t move and doesn’t talk.
And who’s the one moving the most? The kid, the dead last in the social ladder.
And now let’s get to the juicy part: how your react.
Power Move 1 : Submit.. At your own volition
Again on Paulie’s intro, have you noticed how one of the top guys responds to Paulie?
He doesn’t flash a quick grin, he doesn’t nod a hundred times. He waits a second. And then he nods, slowly, thus mimicking Paulie himself. Paulie is the big boss of course, but he’s no fifth wheel either.
This is a great way to submit at your own pace in all situations where you’re not well served by throwing down the gauntlet -as in the conference opening story for example-.
So you take a second, as if to stress you’re not rushing to obey anyone’s order.
Then you smile a bit, as in saying “I know what you just did there” and slightly touch his arm. The touch, as a dominant behavior, mitigates your actions.
You say “sorry” slowly (very high rate of speech = low confidence) and neutrally (there’s a relation between pitch and perceived confidence).
And then you repeat. Shortly. And this time clearly 😉.
Power Move 2: Hit Back
A good option is to reply something like:
Yeah, it’s a a bit of complex topic, I know.
What you’re doing here is implying that it’s not you who wasn’t clear, but that he didn’t get it.
Touch his arm as you speak, lower your gaze for a moment and smile, your expression saying “sorry, I overestimated you but you’re actually a bit slow“.
And then look mostly at the rest of the group as you re-state: you are not following his lead, just using the opportunity to speak again.
Power Move 3: Recruit Friends
Don’t bat alone when you got a pal.
You pause for a bit, then turn around to someone you’re closer to in the group and ask:
“Did you get an idea of what I mean?”.
If you phrase it that way and ask a friend, you’ll likely get a yes. And you’ll probably also get a summary of what you just said.
You confirm of course, and keep building on that.
Very leading move: you call into action someone, have him chime in following your lead and resume talking -and speaking time has direct correlation to dominance-.
You take lead, the Ear Cupping Power Mover takes the group’s dumb@ß role.
Power Move 4: Ignore and forge ahead
And, of course, an evergreen, the 36th law of power: you ignore (similar to you don’t repeat their names). You almost always win when someone wants to get a raise out of you and you deftly ignore and move along.
You can either do nothing and wait for someone to jump in, or better still, take the lead: turn to someone else in the group and move the conversation along either pretending they got it, or changing conversation (and don’t worry if nobody got your point, you can repeat to someone else, the key is you don’t submit to the nonverbal Ear Cupping).
The Power Mover is left in the dust, his gesture completely spurned, while the group moved to a new topic under your leadership.
Wanna see an example? Look at Mayweather ignoring Conor McGregor (not too good) ear cupping move.
Note Mayweather could have done even better by smiling a bit: too stiff looks fake and would look much worse in a more natural setting (also note McGregor takes the final social win by turning first, getting the crowd cheering and Mayweather following suit, in a clear display of leader/follower scenario).
Friendly “Repeat Please” Ear Cupping
Just as a note, the Ear Cupping gesture isn’t always an unfriendly and dominant body language gesture.
Like most body language it can also be used to convey warmth, depending on the delivery.
You will easily recognize warmth because he/she will:
- Lean toward you
- Accompany the gesture with words
- Possibly lightly touch you to convey closeness
- Maybe add a smile
For your benefit, here’s a video example of a friendly non dominant Ear Cupping.
Ear Cupping & Dominant Body Language: Summary
The “repeat please” Ear Cupping gesture is a very dominant body language expression, that’s why you’ll often see cops using it
It’s not a good sign when someone does it to you: it means the Power Mover feels so superior that he can issue non verbal commands and have you comply.
As always, your goal is to find the most socially shrewd way to not submit and, possibly, hit back in style.
- Imply the Power Mover is a bit slow
- Recruit someone else to isolate the Power Mover
- Ignore, forge ahead and change topic leaving the Power Mover in his dust
So long, onwards and upwards :),