Verbal Dominance: 10 Ways to Speak With Confidence

the sound of power: lion roaring

Whether you want to be dominant in conversations, or simply learn to speak with more confidence, there is good news:

You can learn that.

This article shows you to speak with confidence and power.  

#1. Lead The Conversation

How to lead a conversation?

Well, there are a few key variables to control a conversation, and dominant individuals heavily influence all of them:

  • Tempo 
  • Tone (happy, sad, serious, etc.)
  • Subject (what to talk about)
  • Who speaks (who speaks and for how long)

Keep in mind group conversations can differ.
Groups can have “attention hoggers” such as jesters and loudmouths who clamor for attention. In those cases, the socially powerful and strategically smart man isn’t going to enter into a race of “who gets more attention”.
See Power University on how to handle attention-hoggers.

1.1. Dictate the Tempo

Dominant individuals want to be on top of important things.

Or, at least, the things they care about.

And they also don’t want to waste their valuable time.
So while they want to get all the facts, they also want to do so efficiently.

Interviewers and TV hosts often offer good examples of this behavior.
Albeit not all journalists are necessarily dominant, they sometimes are forced to lead the interaction by the very demands of their job: to keep things simple and engaging for the audience.

Example with Nassim Taleb‘s interview:

Taleb: the evaluations are higher…
Interviewer: hang on a second
Taleb: considerable rise in the stock market that…
Interviewer: hang on a second, if that’s the case

This example also shows that “dominance” does not equal socially intelligent, effective, or good leadership. The interviewer overdoes it and comes across as overbearing.

If it’s a group, powerful and socially intelligent leaders make sure everyone is on the same page, everyone is participating and everyone is enjoying the conversation.
If there is someone who is hogging the conversation and boring the group, they will intervene to cut the attention whore short (for a few examples see “group conversation“).

Other expressions of controlling the tempo even more directly include:

Socially Powerful: Go ahead

Socially Powerful: Wait a second

Socially Powerful: Let’s hear Mark here what he thinks

Socially Powerful: Slow down, you’re going too quick

1.2. Impose The Frame

In Power University we explain that some frames are “socially held”.

Such as culture and society frame certain topics in a certain way. And people who adopt those frames have an easier time dominating the frames and, by extension, people.
This is the game that SJW and virtual signalers play. They align with “social frames” held by the majority, so they can win and gain status by oppressing the minority of dissenters (see: fighting against moral policing).

Dominant men hold the frame of what’s right, what’s fair, and what’s “normal” or not normal to do.
And the more power they have as individuals, the more they can go against the grain of groups, social frames, and cultural diktats.

An example from Horrible Bosses:

Boss: You want?
Him: it’s 8:15am (sets a shaming frame for morning drinks, something that society also generally supports)
Boss: why, is there something wrong with a drink in the morning? (challenges the frame with a question)
Him: no (immediately gives up his initial frame)

Drinking at 8:15 in the morning is not normal, but his rank and social power manage to impose on the more submissive man his new normality.

Kevin Spacey in the above example has so much power in that environment, and he maintains his frame so strongly, that he can “buck the frame”.
This is something you want to keep in mind if you live a life that goes against what’s considered “normal”. You need iron frame control -and personal power-.

1.3. Ask The Questions

A question I am often asked is:

is it more dominant to ask questions?

Well, it depends on the circumstances and the type of question.

The quickest way to tell which from which:

If you hope someone replies and you need them, then they likely have more power than you have.
If you expect people to reply, if they comply fully and maybe even feel pressure to reply well, then you’re higher power.

During most informal conversations, in general, it’s more powerful to ask questions and have others reply.

If it’s still not clear, please see this great post from Matthew.

When the power differential is very pronounced, the lower-power party may crave your approval so much that they’ll get nervous.
This dynamic can be replicated in seduction as well.
Here is an example from The Saint:

Him: what do you love about it
Her: (pours her whole heart into her reply)

Also see:

When dominant individuals answer questions, they take more freedom instead.
They choose whether to answer the question literally or figuratively, HOW to answer, and whether or not they want to change the frame of the question (see “frame control techniques“).
Their answers are less about answering questions and more about what they choose to talk about.

1.4. Correct People’s Mistakes

Corrections are a form of attack on authority.

They increase the authority and credibility of the correct-or while decreasing the authority of the correct-ed.

That’s why submissive people often avoid correcting others: they are afraid of taking a strong social stand.

Dating Power Move
Correcting people is also a sign of intellectual dominance that can be used very effectively in dating.
See Power University for an example.

1.5. Contradict Others

Similar to correcting, but packing an even bigger punch.

Here is an example from Meet the Parents:

De Niro: Let me ask you a question Greg (…) Can you really trust another human being?
Greg: Sure, I think so
De Niro: No, the answer is you cannot (contradicts him and imposes his frame, no fucks given)

Real Life Check:
Don’t overuse this one. Yes, it’s dominant, but it’s also a huge rapport breaker. Often, it’s the most socially unaware people who contradict others.
The more socially smart individuals say “yes” and then redirect the conversation.

1.6. Sum Up & Close The Conversation

A dead giveaway of who’s the leader in a conversation is who sums it up.

Whenever you want to take a step forward and advance your leadership, sum up what’s been said and people will look at you like you’re the de-facto leader.

Trump: I will do XYZ, thank you (and he stops answering and take any more question, sub-communicating that the discussion’s over)

#2. Be Assertive

Socially powerful individuals expect to be heard.

And they expect that their rights to speak will be upheld while they also make sure they can understand what you are saying -if they want to-.

They are also not easy to hush and they won’t buckle down if you pressure them.

2.1. Make Sure They Got Your Point

Dominant individuals will make sure their subordinates understand.
They will ask “did you get it?” or “everything clear?”.

In the most extreme situations, they will tell them to repeat. As in this example from Pulp Fiction:

Wallace: say it

2.2. Expect a Reply

Sometimes people try to avoid answering a question.

Dominant men will make it clear when they don’t appreciate it, and they might keep questioning the attitude of the person who expects an answer.
That attitude is an example of a “dominant frame” by imposing one’s own expectations.

‘You don’t necessarily need to get aggressive -albeit you can show you don’t appreciate-.
A great technique you can use is to simply repeat your question with the tone of the person who expects a reply.

See an example from Jackie Brown:

Jackie: well, thanks, I got one now 
Him: you went out this morning and bought a gun?
Jackie: well, let’s say I got one, OK?
Him: (ignores the brush-off) somebody loaned it to you?
(she gives in and replies)

If at her first refusal to answer he had laughed uncomfortably, he would have admitted she’s the dominant one. Instead, he keeps inquiring as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
Very powerful.

2.3. Repeat the Message Until They Comply

Theresa May does something similar to the video example above.

But instead of questions, she uses charged statements (dominant broken record).

This is a very helpful technique.

Imagine you are delivering a speech and the crowd gets too noisy.
If you stop your speech, you lose power.


Because you sub-communicate that their disapproval matters.
And that what they want to communicate is more important than what you want to communicate.

And at that point, your power as the speaker and leader is called into question.
When you’re the leader and you must communicate something, you must see it through.

See how Theresa May handles:

Theresa: I’ve listened very carefully to what’s been said in this chamber and out of it
Crowd: laughs hard, as if to say “no you haven’t, liar”
Theresa: (repeats louder and with a serious and dominant tone that sub-communicates “I mean business”) to what’s been said in this chamber and out of it by members of all sides

As her volume raises on the repetition, she is conveying power and disapproval.
Also notice it was very smart of her not to acknowledge the jeering, not even with her facial expression. She looks professional and “strictly-business”, without time for games.

By repeating her statement, she sub-communicates something like this: “you can laugh as much as you want, but you gotta listen to me because I’m the authority”.

Finally, it was also smart not to repeat from the beginning, since “I’ve listened very carefully” was the most contentious part.

#3. Be Aggressive (when needed)

The dark side of dominance is the ability -and willingness- to aggress and punish.

3.1. Speak Over Others

Dominant and aggressive individuals will trample your right to speech if you let them.

If you saw any of Trump’s debates, it’s shocking how many times he blatantly interrupted, spoke over, or simply just robbed opponents of their right to speak.
And whenever others fought him, he won almost all the times -if not all the times-.

Here is an example of Jeb Bush:

Bush: maybe it works for Hilary Clinton
Trump: (sticking his hand out as if to say “hold on”) excuse me Jeff, Jeff… I was a businessman, I got along with everybody
Bush: (tries to speak over Trump)
Trump: EXCUSE ME! One second
Bush: (lacking power and conviction) no..
Trump: more energy tonight, I like that. Look… (keeps on talking)
Bush: I was asked the question (pointing towards the interviewer, hoping they’ll intervene to save him)
Trump: it was my obligation (finishes to make his point)

Jeb Bush, like pretty much everyone else, was simply unprepared to deal with Trump at his level of dominance, aggression, and Machiavellianism.
He’s the worst possible middle road: he tried to impose and defend but totally lacks the power. And makes a litany of mistakes.
Not only he allows Trump to win, but he turns towards him with a smile, communicating that Trump is the real leader of the pack. 

Trump caps it all off by telling him “go ahead”, and Bush starts speaking on cue like a puppet on a string.

3.2. Cut People Off

Similar to speaking over people, but without ever intending to give the word back.

If the submissive party simply accepts it, they confirm that you’re the undisputed authority.
It’s like giving the right of way. But instead, they give you the right to lead and dominate.

In this scene from Platoon:

Sergeant: Elias won’t be able to prove a thing, he’s a troublemaker… (gets interrupted, drops whatever he wanted to say, and turns to Barns)
Barns: (louder, without looking at the sergeant) Elias is a water walker, like them politicians in Washington

Real Life Check:
As a general rule, void both 3.1 and 3.2. unless you have been aggressed first.

3.3. Push Others on The Defensive

This is one of the critical dimensions for learning and understanding the basics of frame control.

Whenever there is an argument, look at who’s attacking and who’s defending.

The person attacking is the dominant one, and the one defending is the submissive one.

This is an example of a shame attack:

Defender: And that’s where the confusion is coming from
Aggressor: There is no confusion
Defender: (smiles nervously, does not push back, keeps on saying how sorry he is)

You get the feeling overall that the defender isn’t really sorry. But he is saying it because he is pushed against the wall and cannot do anything else but defend and justify.

The interviewer on the other hand acts dominant by remaining on the attack.

Again though, we see here that “dominant” is not always “good”. The interviewer probably overdoes it and crucifies a guy without giving him any chance to speak or explain.

Beating Shame Attacks:
Don’t just defend.
See Power University for the details.

3.4. Ignore What Others Say

Ignoring is a way of showing dominance through (slight) disrespect.

t sometimes when low-status individuals make a mistake or get into a topic that the leader doesn’t like.
Instead of openly stating his disapproval, the high-power individual ignores it.

An example from Beautiful Girls:

Guy 1: so, what part of Chicago are you from (standard boring question, plus he can’t build or vibe on it because he knows nothing of the place)
Her: do you know Chicago?
Guy 1: I know Soldier’s Field
Her: that’s a football field
Guy 2: so, what do you do? (thread-cutting, ignores his friend’s previous topic, and introduces a new topic of conversation)

By starting with “so what do you do” Matt Dillon ignores the previous topic and re-starts the conversation from scratch.
But since Guy 1 had already started the conversation, Dillon appears higher-status (and lowers Guy 1 status).

Real Life Check: This is very useful
Knowing when to ignore people and remarks is a skill you must develop. It’s powerful and high quality while at the same time avoiding escalations and unneeded time-wasting.

3.5. Criticize & Judge Others Harshly

Judgmental aggression mixes aggression with judge powers.

Example from Trump:

Trump: what a stupid question. What a stupid question that is (walks away shaking his head)

That’s dark power, but it’s high-octane power nonetheless.
Look at it very well. The pauses, the anger in his voice, the hand gestures, and, in the end, his judgmental head shaking.
He looks authoritative, strong, and, given his conviction, even right.
People tend to side with authority and the power of conviction. Take politics away, and people who have no idea about what happened would probably indeed think that the reporter was in the wrong.
Poor leadership, but high and effective dominance.

Note: Trump’s little mistake
When he says “I watch you a lot”, that’s where he lost power though.
It’s because he shows a lot of emotional and time investment. He spends lots of effort to keep up with the news. He is sub-communicating that they are a high priority for him (and they get under his skin).

3.6. Make’Em Squeak With Social Pressure

Social pressure is not necessarily rude or intimidatory.

However, it does leverage a certain fear or at least some discomfort from the submissive party.
An example from Meet The Parents, a great movie to learn power dynamics:

De Niro’s questions are strong and direct. Stiller makes a joke to relieve some pressure but instead of accepting the release of pressure -a friendly move- De Niro keeps piling pressure on, culminating with “but you didn’t pick it”.

Now if Stiller wanted to be equally dominant, here is how he could have done it:

De Niro: They say geniuses pick green…. But you didn’t pick it
Stiller: “They” say it? Who says it

He’d be questioning his authority and forcing him to explain. Then he could have delivered his dominant coup de grace by taking the judging position and ending with “hmmm I’m not convinced. Anyway… “.

If he wanted to be even more direct and aggressive:

De Niro: They say geniuses pick green…. But you didn’t pick it
Stiller: Not really, I’ve heard boring people pick green

And this is a powerful yet polite way of handling it:

De Niro: They say geniuses pick green…. But you didn’t pick it
Stiller: I don’t know about that Jack. It’s just a nice color as far as I’m concerned. And it fits well with your lovely garden too (smiles ). Shall we go in now guys

#4. Never Submit

Dominant men avoid expressions of submission.

Makes sense, no?

They avoid most of what we talked about here.

They avoid conforming to other people’s tempo, they avoid defending themselves, they avoid being tasked, and they maneuver around contradiction and corrections.

And they also approach questions differently than non-dominant men.

4.1. Answer From Your Frame

Remember that answering questions put you in a submissive position?

Well, here are some options to maintain power:

  1. Say something, then ask a question back
  2. Change the frame of the question, then answer your own question
  3. Only address one aspect of the question, then talk about what inspires you

Here is an example from the intellectually dominant Aleksandr in Sex and The City:

Her: my spies told me you were quite a regular at Studio 54 (she makes a big deal about it, but he refuses to be goaded onto bragging and reminiscing). That must have been an amazing time (again, he holds his “superior” frame, just staring at her). Why don’t you tell me about that
Him: what is there to remember (…) I rarely think about the past. What I care about is what can happen today. Tonight. What may happen tomorrow. Yes?
Her: yes (U-turn, accepts his frame, she’s sold to his leadership)

If she wanted to be less submissive, she could have insisted in a socially smart way. For example: “very nice, I liked that. But you must remember something more.. how did you feel there, was it a good time?

For the guys, make a note about this.
Aleksandr’s power is the power of the mature and worldly man who’s been around the world, been there, done that. He is centered and unflappable.
He does not move and change state for her: she changes and adapts to him.

Also observe him for the whole scene, very socially powerful with his facial expression and social-pressure-inducing silences (albeit he is a bit emotionally distant).
Aleksandr comes across as socially powerful and intellectually dominant (which is even more important for an older man, who is expected to be intellectually dominant)

4.2. Don’t Follow Their Lead (Pre-Framed Answering)

Answering yes or no follows their lead.

So this technique consists of answering in a way that presupposes yes or no without saying yes or no.

It’s socially smooth and displays high social skills.

Here is a great example from Jackie Brown:

Her: Madrid first. Have you ever been there?
Him: I’ve heard they don’t eat dinner until midnight

Saying “no” would have followed her lead while decreasing his value -admitting of not being a well-traveled man- and would have put an end to the conversation.
The way he answers instead presupposes the “no”, without following her lead. He adds value without losing value, and it allows the conversation to continue.

4.3. Deny Any Judge Power Over You

The judge’s role again.

Social power requires you to “see” social dynamics and prevent people from pushing you on the defensive with a judge role.

Here are two ways to prevent a judge attack:

Him: oh, and you think that’s OK?

Think about the frame in that question.

The frame is that if you think X is OK, then YOU are not OK.

That attack goes at the core of “what you stand for” and, of course, “who you are”.
It calls into question whether you are “good enough” as a human being. And if you defend you follow them into that frame that questions your value as a human being.
And if you overreact or defend you confirm the frame that whether or not you are good enough is up for discussion.

Getting angry or upset here sub-communicates that you are being affected by the frame and that you don’t fully believe in your value as a human being.

Instead, you want to avoid the quicksands of defense and emotional overreaction. And either question the frame itself or question them.

#5. Use Fewer Words

Remember the law of least effort?

It applies to verbal production as well, of course.

It applies to verbal production as well, of course.

Socially powerful men tend to have a higher ROI for each word spoken.
Because, when they speak, they tend to say something important that people will listen to.

5.1. Use Pregnant Pauses

Fearful people speak quickly.
As if they cannot stand being at the center of attention.

Speaking quickly also signals they’re afraid someone will steal their speaking time.

Some powerful people might speak faster, for sure.
However, it’s only powerful people who have the confidence to speak slowly and use lots of pauses.

So taking your time to speak is a signal of power.

Olivia Cabane in The Carisma Myth recommends people who want to look powerful and charismatic wait 2 seconds before replying.
Here is possibly the most famous example of pregnant pauses:

Godfather: Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you (notice again the collaborative frames). But don’t ever take sides against the family again. (pregnant pause) Ever.

5.2. Wield Social Pressure With Silences

One of the biggest displays of dominance is by removing words to apply social pressure.

Di Caprio does it in this scene from Wolf of Wall Street.
He puts pressure on the banker to answer his question and gets down to business through pure silence.

Di Caprio: (goes straight to business)
Banker: excusez-moi Jordan, Swiss custom requires 10 minutes of chit-chat before business can be discussed
(critical juncture now and mini-power showdown that determines who’s gonna get the upper hand)
Di Caprio: (just stares at him, no words)
Banker: (starts cracking under pressure) yeah… Of course, let’s get down to it. What would you like to know

However, by far my favorite example of the power of silence is in Casino.

Guys: Carmine left?
Pesci: eh (nods)
Guy 1: he’s gone?
Guy 2: he’s not here?
Pesci: (looks at them)

Also besides the words, notice the investment on both sides and the emotional reactions.
The two guys are surprised and stupefied (heavy emotional investment), while Pesci is confident and cool like a cucumber.

Use Dominant Expressions

Here are more expressions of social power.
For brevity I only list the words, for examples and ways to deal with them, check Power University:

  • (Yo) listen (to me)
  • I didn’t understand anything, tell me again
  • What did you just say
  • That’s right
  • No! It’s not like that at all…
  • Wrong!
  • And you think there is nothing wrong with that?
  • Alright?(as if to say “did you get it?” or “done, now we move on”)
  • No, answer my question
  • Sorry, I don’t wanna hear about it right now
  • Tell me something more interesting
  • Shut up! Silence! Quiet!
  • Facts and numbers say it

The last one is important.
In debates, rationality, and science convey power and authority and are often what makes the difference between losing or winning a debate.

Trump lost two exchanges in a row because the journalists managed to take the rational high ground on him:

Learn More

This is an excerpt from Power University.

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