How to Handle ALL Power Moves: The Silver Bullet Technique

power moves shield

A power move is anything that affects the power dynamics of an interaction.

However, the most dangerous power moves are the ones that, for you, negatively affect the power dynamics.

We call it here “disempowering”.
And it can be anything that embarrasses you, undermines you, harms your reputation, frames you as antisocial, or anything that generally makes you worse off and keeps you lower down, and far from your true potential.

In this article we will learn how to handle any of that disempowering sh*t thrown your way.

universal tool as symbol of universal retort for any power move


The dictionary of power dynamics defines a power move as:

A power move is anything that affects the power dynamics of an interaction.

Generally speaking, you want to limit your own power moves on others.
Too many power moves to other people’s detriment mean you’re being a taker -and an asshole-. And while “being a good asshole” sometimes is necessary in life, as for everything: balance.

It’s just a poor life approach because what happens when you disempower the people around you is that the high-value, power-aware and smart people leave -of course-, and you’re left with only the clueless, low-value people.
In brief, the great people leave, the idiots stay.

Your need: you must address power moves

OK, you don’t want to be the ass*hole, we got that.

However, you sure as hell also don’t want to be the sucker who’s the victim of as*holes and other people’s power moves.

Being the victim without re-empowering yourself means that you get pushed down lower and lower in society -and in life-.

And we don’t want that.

So to avoid being relegated to the bottom of society, you need to defend yourself, enforce healthy boundaries, and demand respect and fair behavior.

Problem: answering appropriately to power moves is difficult

Now the problem is this:

Many people struggle to even see power dynamics and power moves.
Luckily, this website -and Power University– come to the rescue.

The second problem is that many folks, either too submissive, too “nice“, too passive, or simply not socially skilled enough struggle to respond to power moves.

To counter-attack you need to know you’re under attack, know how to counter-attack, and have the resolve to counter-attack

Responding appropriately can indeed be challenging -Power Universtiy also addressed that-.
We had many articles on effective responses to specific power moves -or to classes of power moves-, including:

That may seem like a lot to learn.
Luckily though, it’s more about understanding the underlying principles of self-defense, than learning to deal with every single situation.

Power University helps you learn and internalize those principles and foundations.

And the second approach is what we’re discussing here.
Such as: learn a single stock response that you can use with the vast majority of power moves.

Solution: an easy stock response

In Power University we shared the foundational, high-level strategies for frame control.

Step 2 was:

  • Use an observational statement to gain time, collect yourself, and display level-headedness, and add matching body language (for example, corrugating eyebrows as if to say “what the fu*k was that”).

The great news is:

This can be a fantastic self-defense stock answer in and on its own, even without anything else.

So let’s learn now how you can use one single observational sentence for any challenge you may face:

The Universal Meta-Comment

passpartout key as symbol of universatl solution to power moves

The simple format is:

  1. “That’s”
  2. “A (weird / unfriendly / aggressive) thing to
  3. “Do / say / ask”

That’s it.

Then, optional, you may add or reinforce with:

  1. To a (friend / partner / customer / someone you’ve just met)”: this part adds more “punch” and power to your answer because it thread expands and adds more details of why it’s particularly weird / unfriendly / aggressive given the situation.
    It often leverages the power of vulnerability which you can also further expand. For example, if you say “it’s an aggressive thing to say to a neighbor who’s been nothing but friendly” you shame them by comparing your win-win behavior with their lose-win
    • “As a (goodbye / first question / first meeting) same as above, but instead of adding a detail about you, it adds a detail about the context and setting.
  2. “It’s as if”… Make a comparison to better explain why it was weird. This further thread expands and surfaces the nastiness, plus allows you to hit back through your example.
    For example, with “how much you make” you may say “it’s as if I asked you “how many men you slept with (what kind of a question is that, it’s very personal)”.
    Or to answer the covert racism you’d say “it’s as if I said the German guy is being a nazi as usual (that’s just inappropriate, besides being wrong and just nasty)”

You can slightly modify it to increase the power/dominance or the warmth, and to better tailor to the situation.
For example, if you preface it with “I feel”, it’s lower power -less judge role- but also more difficult to deny since you’re sharing your feelings.

Note on using “weird”

“Weird” is a good all-season workhorse.

It works well with any covert power move or anything you’re not sure about since it basically means that whatever someone did or said was “off” -so good for any time you’re not sure- or “not straight” -good for any turkey-like power move-.

It’s a word we generally encourage you to avoid outside of self-defense because it’s a nasty judge power move and implies that one “does not belong”, that he’s not “good enough”, and not even “normal enough”.
It’s not straight and eagle-like.

However, for self-defense, everything can be fair game.

How It Looks Like

Some examples of what it looks like:

Personal question you don’t want to reply to

Him: how much do you make
You: that’s a weird thing to ask

Random covertly aggressive request 

Him: (…) and don’t keep doing X as you usually do
You: that’s an aggressive way of asking for something

Random covert racism / one-up

Him: the Italian guy is late as usual
You: that’s a racist thing to say

“Racist” is a strong word that’s often used by virtue signalers and social just warrior for their BS covert-power move “support” and cancel-culture attacks.

So, generally speaking, you want to avoid it in order to be more eagle-like.

However, you can use it strategically to deliver a strong jolt and/or to push someone on the defensive.
Otherwise, you can just say “that’s a big generalization to make”.

Covert aggression masked as humor

Him: good to see our friend here, he only comes out when there is a free lunch
You: that’s a nasty joke to make to a friend

Covert request & complaint

Now we get into the real-life case study that sparked the birth of this technique.

I was at a neighbor’s place, and we had a very pleasant evening.

Among many other topics, my neighbor told us of someone in the building doing housework late at night.
Nobody knew for sure who it was, but my (very high-power) neighbor had the property management send out a high-power letter demanding to stop (or else), and the noises stopped right away.

Keep in mind that nobody ever said -or even implied- it might have been anyone present -least of all me-.
Logically, I should have not even been a suspect since I live in a different building, and I had just come back from abroad.

But still, her comment as we bid farewell seemed to frame me as that “guilty” and “antisocial” neighbor who kept others awake:

Her: (by the door while bidding farewell) and please stop doing house repair at 1 am

I wasn’t even sure if it was a bad joke, a power move, or an actual request from someone who didn’t have the courage to speak clearly and assertively.

And I was at a loss for words.

Loss for words?
Enter our universal solution.

In that case, our universal “meta catch-all” technique would have been perfect:

Her: (by the door while bidding farewell) and please stop doing house repair at 1 am
You: that’s a weird thing to say as a goodbye

Why It Works

The universal comment:

  • Keeps it brief and sweet, one single sentence, and very low-effort. It abides the foundational “law of least effort”
  • Goes “meta”, such as, it comments and expands on the power move itself rather than simply responding to it (albeit it falls short of explaining why it’s disempowering and nasty and why you do not accept it, and hence it’s only a first step of a “meta” technique. But it’s often enough for everyone present to understand the nastiness by themselves, even if only unconsciously)
  • Frame expands and draws attention to the nastiness (surfacing), it highlights and draws attention to the nastiness of their power move. A technique we call “surfacing” (the nastiness)
  • Re-empowers you and draws your boundaries displaying power awareness and your expectations for fair and respectful behavior.
    In all its brevity, it sub-communicates “I got your power move, and don’t appreciate”

Why It’s Universal

This universal retort is NOT perfect.

It may even be far from perfect.

Surprised to hear that?
Well, that’s exactly why it’s universal.

It’s not specialized in anything.
But it’s “good enough” on all terrains:

SUV as an example of "all terrain"
SUVs are not the most performing for paved roads, not the grippiest for off-roads, and not the plushest for long-distance driving. But they’re at least “good enough” in all of them

Its “non-perfection” is the natural price to pay for the universaility.
The perfect -or best- courses of action are always context-dependent, so there cannot be a universal retort that is perfect.


This stock answer reaches at least “good enough” level in a large array of situations.

That’s what makes it universal.

It’s a good balance of:

  • Enough power for self-defense and maintaining status, reputation, and respect:
    it’s good or very good for green and yellow-level power moves.
    However, if it was a red-level power move, this stock answer may be “underpowered”. But one, you can tweak it with body language and tonality to increase its dominance. And two, it’s still enough to send the message that you’re not totally passive, that you can read power dynamics, and that you’re not OK with being disempowered.
  • Enough warmth to avoid going overboard and looking too aggressive or touchy: even if the original comment was not an actual power move and you misread the situation, this answer doesn’t go overboard to the point that you may harm relationships or look too clueless or aggressive yourself

So it’s an in-between sweet spot of power/warmth.
Yes, it may not be perfect, and if you can be more accurate and effective, absolutely go for whatever else is more appropriate.

However, perfection is not required and something is always better than nothing.

So whenever you’re at a loss for words, at worst, this solution is “good enough”.
And it may also be your perfect starting response before you reach a more advanced level -a level where you can better adapt to the context and to your goals-.

And speaking of beginners, this may be even an even easier first step for some:

Technique 2: Universal Deferral For Beginners

The issue for beginners is:

  1. Lack of power awareness: if you start from low-ish power awareness, chances are you may not even spot all dangerous power moves.
  2. Lack of personal power: you may not yet be assertive enough to quickly and resolutely draw your boundaries, so you may let all power moves slip -and damage you- completely unchecked.

However, for #1 you may still have an initial “gut reaction”.
So a word, an action, or a question may just feel “off”, or “weird”.

And for #2, you may have enough willpower and resolve to say something, if it was just “easy enough”.

The simplest step may be to simply note something was off, and you’re not sure about it.

A deferring comment that sub-communicates “that was off, I registered it, and will think about it”.
It’s a very low-intensity way of saying that “I noticed, and put you on notice”.

Here’s how to do it:

You: That sounds off, I’m not sure how I feel about that

Honest and straight.

You can say that with an inquisitive look, or even while looking away.

Some other formats:

You: That remark felt aggressive, I’ll need to think about that

You: I’m not yet sure what it was, but something about your joke feels not cool, I’ll have to think about it

It’s possible they will prod you to detail and share more about what was off.
In which case, you had a few more precious seconds to think it over. If it’s clear to you how to articulate it, say it.
If you’re still unsure, simply repeat it felt off, and you need more time to think what it was.

The great thing about this approach is that you give leave for yourself the option -and the power- to go back to the power mover and raise the issue later on.
Such as, you give yourself the option to draw your boundaries at any point in the future.

For example:

You: I don’t know man, it’s not something I would say/do, and not something that a friend would say. I need to think about it more

You can even ask the attacker what they think about it, for example:

You: I don’t know, it doesn’t feel something like a friend or someone with your best interest in mind would say. Don’t you think?

And with that, you’ll gain even more intel on them.
Will they deny, will they confirm and uncover their own attack? Or will they repent and apologize? This is all great intel to assess people.

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