The Godfather has a calm and collected way of showing dominance.
- Showy Dominance VS Quiet Dominance
- Slow Movements
- Cut People Off (With a Gesture)
- Pregnant Pauses
- Dominate By Dis-respecting
- Highlight Submission
- Manhandle When Needed
- Dominate With Intensity
- How To Be Dominant Like The Godfather: Summary
Showy Dominance VS Quiet Dominance
And before starting let’s highlight the difference between “showy dominance” –McGregor style for example- and quiet dominance, the Godfather style.
The showy form of dominance is brash, loud and with hints to physical aggression -or actual physical aggression-.
This is the greener in the tooth form of dominance. It’s usually -albeit not always- associated with younger age and a more temperamental and impulsive behavior. It’s more likely to end up in troubles, to fall head over heels into traps, and even more likely to die.
The aggressive style is often less powerful because it is more often associated with people who are not (yet) at the top or just recently got to the top. Tim Grover puts it very nicely when he says that the loudest man in the room is the one with the most to prove.
The calmer way of showing dominance is more often associated with people who’ve been at the top for a while. Aside from natural temperament, it comes from 4 traits:
- Little to Prove: Most people know who’s at the top, so they got little to prove
- Little to Gain: Once at the top you have little incentives in rocking the boat
- Experience: The “been there done that” effect. It makes you calmer. And it’s also sexy
- Social Understanding: A rational or intuitive grasp of the body language of power and dominance
In The Godfather, of course, this is Vito Corleone -Marlon Brando- and Michael Corleone -Al Pacino-.
So let’s get down to a few Power Moves the Godfather uses to radiate quiet dominance:
Slow movements are a cornerstone of quiet dominance.
Robert Greene says in his 48 Laws of Power says hurrying betrays a lack of control over yourself, and over time, being at at the mercy of events outside your control. But dominant people are not at the mercy of anything, they are the masters of their own world. Hence, they don’t rush but move slowly.
I pick a scene from The Goodfellas because it makes it crystal clear why dominant men move slow: because they don’t have to move for anybody.
Paulie might have moved slow.
But it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.
Cut People Off (With a Gesture)
Listening to someone intently without interrupting is a sign of respect. Cutting people off is a sign of dominance. When you cut people off without even addressing them you show total dominance.
Look at the Godfather cutting Sonny off without even looking at him.
The Godfather speaks little (4th law of the 48 Laws of Power) and uses plenty of pauses between sentences. He uses pregnant pauses indeed to both show he’s not hurried and to give more weight to what he’s saying.
Notice how deeper it sinks in as he waits a full 2-3 seconds before finishing the sentence with “ever”.
Never take side against the family… Ever
Dominate By Dis-respecting
Disrespecting someone with impunity can be one of the dark ways of showing dominance.
The Godfather does it mostly in a subtle way. If giving full attention to someone is indeed a sign of respect, taking that attention away is a sign of disrespect -and dominance-.
Interacting with someone while doing something else is a sign of disrespect (ie.: if your date is checking the phone while you speak, tell him/her to stop).
Here the Godfather feels Bonasera is beneath him. He shows it by playing with the cat while talking to him, thus not gifting him with undivided attention. Vito will later move to higher forms of dominance such as finger pointing, submission requests (hand-kissing) and then finally escorting him out.
Give Them Your Back
Giving someone our full frontal body is a sign we’re intensely focused on them and can be a sign of respect.
On the other hand, giving them our back is the complete opposite: a sign we’re not interested. And if they’re talking to us and we’re listening, it’s a sign of disrespect.
The Godfather uses it a few times during the movie.
Here he is showing Fredo with his body language that he is disrespecting him and punishing him. And dishing out punishments with impunity is a sign of dominance.
Note: this position can also be used to void the height advantage taller people might try to use on you when they want to dominate you (Pease & Pease).
Don’t look at them
Similarly, you will also notice the Godfather often looks away.
While looking away can be a sign of shyness, it can also be a sign of dominance.
Looking at someone a lot builds indeed rapport and says “I like you”. But looking at people less says they need to make the hard work of showing liking. Joe Navarro says that while subordinate are supposed to look, dominant men can look wherever they want. Thus, deciding where to look is a way of showing dominance and freely decide not to communicate liking.
Also, looking at people’s eyes less often allows you to deliver stronger statements once you DO fixate your eyes on them. Add pregnant pauses, and you get to Godfather’s intensity level:
Thus, having people verbalize and, even more, act the way you want is very powerful (see one way to use it: make people verbalize their appreciation).
And the Godfather makes sure the people around him do act dominated in very obvious ways. Most notably, the hand kissing -“baciamo le mani”-.
Another major advantage of having obvious signs of submissiveness from the people around you is that we humans are major social creatures, which means that seeing someone submitting makes it much more likely we’ll do the same (this is the social proof principle).
Manhandle When Needed
Quiet dominance doesn’t mean passive or unassertive. It means the intensity is restrained and under control, but it can always burst through. Indeed the Godfather has no qualms in invading personal space and manhandling the people around when the situation calls for it. Like when a Hollywood finocchio starts sobbing a bit too obviously 🙂 :
Dominate With Intensity
Beneath the quiet surface, another dominant trait of the Godfather is his supreme Intensity. Also noticed by Nassim Taleb in Antifragile a man unleashing strong emotions when he’s otherwise mostly calm and controlled is all the more impressive.
Since most people live in a grey, repressed zone most of the times, raw intensity is a trait that can scare most people off. And scaring people off is, again, another dark side of dominance (Machiavelli said that being feared is better than being liked for a king).
Here’s an example: the intensity of Michael Corleone giving the kiss of death to his brother will give you the chills. Almost as much as it gave Fredo the chills:
You Broke My Heart. You Broke My Heart
How To Be Dominant Like The Godfather: Summary
The Godfather shows dominance in a multitude of ways. This is not to be intended as an exhaustive list but more like an analysis of a few key scenes with a few key principles.
And here’s the corresponding full video: