Social Strategy 101: High-Power / High-Warmth

power warmth matrix

This post introduces one of the foundational strategies of power.

You will learn how to relate with others to make the best impressions, gain the most social status as quickly as possible, and establish the strongest win-win relationships with the highest quality people.

Mix Power With Warmth

The stereotype content model postulates groups and individuals assess each other along two dimensions:

Power: how powerful is he?
Warmth: is he friend or foe?

The original research refers to “competence” instead of power.
But since “competence” is defined as “the capacity to enact one’s intentions” (Fiske et al., 2007), that’s basically also the definition of power.

The two axes form 4 quadrants.
See it here with an example in each for:

  • Politics
  • Work
  • Relationships

#1. Low Power – High Warmth

The too nice guy

Included in this category are:

  • The panhandler you take pity on
  • The pussy-whipped provider for men
  • The housewife who always says yes to her man, no matter how she feels

Emotion: Pity
Behavior: Passive facilitation (and sometimes passive harm)

This quadrant says:

“I’m friendly and naive, easy to manipulate and take advantage of”.

#2. Low Power – Low Warmth

The frustrated chump

Included in this category are:

  • Jealous frenemies
  • Angry overweight man
  • Average frustrated people
  • Old grumpy woman yelling at the neighbor

From a stereotype perspective, such as before we get to know the person, people place in the low-power and low-warmth category folks such as homeless and welfare recipients. These groups are seen as leeching off society without giving anything. They take and give nothing (low warmth), but also take little (low power).

Emotion: Contempt
Behavior: Active harm

This quadrant says:

“I’m unhappy with my life and take my frustration on the people around”.

#3. Low Warmth – High Power

The ruthless prince

Examples in this quadrant:

  • Donald Trump
  • Famous and unapproachable VIP
  • Powerful and cruel dictator
  • Manipulative and self-serving boss

Republicans are seen as low-warmth, and that’s why Republican leaders tend to need more security and protection.

Emotion: Envy
Behavior: Passive harm

This quadrant says:

“I’m powerful because I’m better than you, so stay away”.

#4. High warmth – High Power

The high-quality leader

Examples of this category are:

  • The famous VIP who takes time to shake hands and sign autographs
  • The founder who mentors his team
  • The champion who starts a gym in his hood
  • The leader that people admire, like, and respect

Generally the people everyone wants to be around.

Beyond your political affiliation, liberal leaders tend to be seen as high warmth and high power. Obama tried to be here and partially succeeded, and Bill Clinton is a great example. No matter your political affiliation, this is a man people wanted to be around.

Emotion: Admiration
Behavior: Active facilitation

This quadrant says:

“I’m powerful, and I’m happy if you also join me here at the top”.

Let’s see now when you can strategically use each approach:

Low-Warmth / Low-Power: For Testing People

There are not many instances in which low-warmth / low-power can come useful.

Two of them are:

  1. When you want to be left alone: pretend you know nothing, act cantankerous, and people will avoid you
  2. When you want to test people: pretend you’re harmless, and somewhat annoying. And see how they react

But those are rare exceptions. For the most part: avoid this quadrant. And the people in it.

High-Warmth / Low-Power: For Female Seduction

High warmth mixed with low power has more uses.

It works even better to test people:

1. Testing people: will they take advantage of your friendliness?

As Jesus said:

“whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”.

You pretend to be one of the least of those brothers. 
And see if they take advantage of it.

Another technique is to give without asking back and see if they respect the win-win rules of social exchanges.
Will they give back, or not? If they don’t, then the enlightened collaborator knows they might not be the right people to establish a relationship with.

Also read:

Life Strategy: The Enlightened Collaborator

2. Seducing men

This quadrant works great for women to send signals of “exploitability”, which are attractive to men.
See the dating section for more.

Low-Warmth / High-Power: For Despots & Gangs

High warmth invites win-win relationships.

And generally, that’s great.
But you can’t always go win-win in life.

When there is no room for win-win, then you might need to go win-lose or, at least, you might want to discourage any attempts of lose-win (ie.: relationships where you are the losing party).
Low warmth can help with both, especially if you can combine it with high power.

1. Despots & Dictators Can Gain by Instilling Fear

In some circumstances, despots can acquire more absolute power by keeping the people around in fear.

Instead of trying to influence you, courtiers will be busier trying to appease you.
And instead of plotting against you, they will be more occupied trying to be on your good side.

This is why Machiavelli says that “being feared is better than being loved”.
And this is why Robert Greene recommends to “keep others in suspended terror”.

Instilling fear is a dangerous strategy, though. There are three crucial aspects to make it work:

1. Build your reputation before the action even starts

People need to know in advance that any machination and rebellion against you will be brutally put down.

When people know that as soon as they get in the street, they’ll get shot, chances are that nobody will want to make the first move (it’s a form of “tragedy of commons” working in your favor).

2. You must act quickly and resolutely

Act quick and don’t let any rebellion gather momentum, or it can become a long, drawn-out bloodbath.

If the dictator allows for momentum to build, the rebellion might gather enough speed and momentum to topple him (or to become a stalemated conflict, see Syria and Venezuela).

3. Keep the few crucial people happy (& the military)

Even dictators depend on a few crucial backers (de Mesquita, 2011).

Those backers include army generals.

The fear strategy is risky: dictators low in warmth are hated by the population, so they must be high in financial rewards towards those crucial backers.
So never forget: it’s OK to keep your key backers fearful, but also make sure they got a full belly.

That holds true for the military, of course.
In times of turmoil, a dictator’s best friend is the military.

Needless to say, these are very poor leaders (so don’t make your goal to be a POS dictator).

2. For Criminals To Climb Hierarchies in Violent Environments (Gangs)

Violence and a reputation for violence are important currencies to gain status in gangs.

Being low in warmth can be advantageous for a quick climb (see Scarface analysis).

That being said, once at the top, you still need more skills than just a violent attitude.
People at the very top of well-organized gangs, like the mafia, still gain from a reputation of fairness -albeit a twisted, illegal version of “fairness”-.

3. To Prevent Abuse in High-Competition & High-Danger Environments

Instilling fear in others can also be useful in high-danger environments.

It can include sports competitions, especially contact sports, or cut-throat business environments.
And of course, high-violence environments, like prisons (see an example from “The 25th Hour“).

Says Baumeister:

A reputation for dangerous, unpredictable aggressiveness, causes others to leave one alone.
 This is the irony of the fighter who never fights because he is known to be such a dangerous fighter that no one is willing to challenge him. 

However, life in gangs truly doesn’t pay well.
So you probably don’t want to go down that road.

Low-warmth / High Power Looks More Powerful

People who are low in warmth and high in power usually look more powerful.

Why’s that?

For most non-powerful people, submission and high warmth are signals to avoid confrontations.
So we tend to associate very high levels of friendliness and submission with low-power.

On the other hand, some people purposefully use low-warmth to appear powerful.
This is what Steven Pinker dubs “aggressive nonconformity”, such as purposefully being low warmth as an indicator of power.

Anti-sociality and a bad temper in this case sub-communicates:

“I’m so talented / wealthy / well-connected / popular, that I can afford to offend you”

So when we see someone who is being openly snotty, snobbish, and unapproachable, we tend to think they must be high status.
“They can afford” to be low-warmth, we think.

However, this is a trap.
People who seek to look powerful by being unfriendly, pay a high social price.
Just look at this picture:

Photo by HavanKevin. Used under Creative Commons License

Does she look powerful or like she’s trying too hard to look powerful, high-value and in-demand?
Most often, it’s the latter. 
That’s why I discourage this technique: it screams social climber, alpha male posturer, or third-world country b*tch with a complex of inferiority.

Low-Warm / High-Power: Lots of Enemies, Few True Allies

The other major problem of LW/HP is that it fails with win-win and collaborative relationships.

As we saw already, win-win and collaborative relationships are a hallmark of long-term power strategies.

Let’s look at the original data from Fiske’s research:

warmth and competence matrix
By Sonicyouth86 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 (edited),

See the issue?

The problem with individuals low in warmth is that we consider them as outgroup.
And, in people’s brains, it’s a close step to go from “outgroup” to “enemy”.

And that’s the problem of being low in warmth: when you’re low in warmth, you make many enemies, but few friends.

That’s a problem because, as we said, allies empower, and enemies disempower.

That’s also an issue for leaders -or, at least, for those who want to be great leaders-.

Remember in the beginning, when we said that power that lasts uses as little coercive power as possible?
Well, that’s the other problem with being lower in warmth: Bosses and leaders who are low in warmth are considered despots. Everything you ask people to do while you’re in low in warmth is perceived as an imposition on people.

Example: Jews, The Holocaust, & The Threatened Ego

Leading to WWII many Germans saw Jews as a hyper-potent outgroup (low warmth, high power).

And jews did little to assuage those fears and change the Germans’ perceptions.
Jews, by and large, stayed within their ingroups and did not take any real steps to integrate, make friends, be seen more trustworthy, and increase their “warmth” scores.

So when the Nazis got to power and the repression against the Jews started, most Germans didn’t see it as racism.
They saw it as payback time, as “evening the odds”.
It was the battle of the good people against the mean enemies.
From the SCM model point of view, the nazis wanted to move the jews from “low-warmth/high-power” to “low-warmth/low-power”, where most people instinctively feel that all low-warmth people should dwell (Sapolsky, 2017).

This story is also relevant because of what it says about the relationships between ego and behavior.
When people feel unhappy with their circumstances, or feel that their ego is threatened, they project their anger and hatred towards the low-warmth/high-power.
Which is why low-warmth/high-power is a breeding ground for frenemies.

In short: when you’re in this quadrant, people might smile at your face because they have to, but when the chance arises, they will trip you.

Overall: Avoid Being Here Too Long, And Avoid People Residing Here

If you’re reading here, you’re probably not a despot and probably not in a gang.

And even if you are, you probably want something better than that.

So, overall, you want to limit your time in this quadrant.
And you want to avoid people who reside here most of their time.

High Warmth / High Power: The Most Consistently Successful

High-warmth / high-power works best for most life situations.

The advantages include:

– Decreases competition against you
– Increases supportive behavior
– Increases the chances of win-win

Let’s look again at the quadrant:

high warmth high power matrix
By Sonicyouth86 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 (edited),

While we consider low-warmth individuals to be the outgroup, we consider those high in warm to be “one of us”.

That way, fewer people will want to trip you and beat you, and more people will want to join you and support you.

This is why high-warmth/high-power is one of the foundational strategies of power. It’s the one most likely to equip you with friends and allies, within win-win and collaborative relationships.

In Summary

In most free-forming relationships, which are the majority in our modern world, warmth complements and increases your power.

The mistake many men commit is to completely erase warmth in an effort to be more “alpha” and dominant.
And while that’s a good strategy in some settings and situations, your overall strategy is this: aim to be both high warmth and high power.

This is an excerpt from Power University.

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