Schwarzenegger Showdown: “I Don’t Stand By Your Rules”

Arnold Schwarzenegger with "make your rules"

“I don’t stay with your rules”,

Said Schwarzenegger to the interviewer.

And that was the culumination of the mini power showdown.

Power showdowns happen when you stick to your preferred outcome or frame, and the people you’re dealing with do the same.

Then, the escalation continues until either one of you gives in, or until you negotiate an outcome.

In this article, we are going to review a real-life example of a mini power showdown.

Arnold Schwarzenegger face with caption

Strongly and directly rejecting someone’s rules, demands, or questions is likely to kick off a power showdown


Generally speaking:

It’s better not to give in after you start an escalation because power showdowns raise the stakes for both “wins” and “losses”.

Meaning that if you cave in after a showdown, you lose big.

The power showdown is all about who is higher power, so if you cave in, you almost officially sub-communicate that you’re lower power than your opponent.
So your status semi-officially tanks, you lose respect both from your opponent and the audience, and you lose a lot of attraction from women.

You submitted, you “officially” tanks, attraction from women disappears, and you lose lots of respect.

Possible Outcomes Of Showdowns

Showdowns don’t necessarily end up with a big winner and a big loser.

Instead, they can end up as:

  • Negotiative damage limitation, when one or both parties concede something before the final resolution. This is where smart power protection and saving face also comes into play
  • Draw, when both parties stick to their guns and nobody gives an inch, or when the negotiation is perfectly fair to both
  • Win-win, when both parties come out of it better off. This is rarer, but it’s exactly the case in this article’s case study

For reference, this is the full video of our case study:

So let’s learn more about power showdowns and smart negotiations:

Step 1: High-Investment Question Starts The Showdown

Interviewerin one word and one word only how did a small-town boy from Austria become one of the most famous people on earth

The interviewer poses the question in a way that disempowers Schwarzenegger.

Why is it disempowering to Arnold?

Well, think about it.
A question is already a task to provide a reply.

If you keep adding requirements, you set more rules for them to obey to.

The more constraints and complexities you add, the more disempowering the question becomes because you make answering more and more difficult, taxing, and demanding.
The more stringent those rules are, the more effort you are demanding the other person to expend for you.

Finally, when your constraints also sound “off” and “unnatural”, it’s even more disempowering because the frame is that you have so much power that you can come up with any random cr@p, and people still obey.

Result, you gain power, they lose it.

From a power dynamics point of view, these types of questions set a lot of hoops to jump through.

From a power point of view, it says “bend over backward to give an answer the exact way I want it”.

Schwarzenegger is a power-aware and high-power man though, and he doesn’t like that.

So instead of following the interviewer’s lead, he challenges the question.

P.S.: The Disempowerment Started Even Before

Did you catch it?

The interviewer had already disempowered Arnold before he even popped the famous “one word only” question.

If you did, you’re rocking!
If not yet, then you may benefit a lot from our material to gain more status in life.

Because I bet a good chunk of why Arnold challenged the question is not so much because of the question itself, but what the interviewer did before that.

Learn More

We explain this all better in Power University, but for an overview:

  1. Social power dynamics: a primer on the power dynamics of socialization
  2. The irrefutable laws of power: the main laws of personal and social power

Step 2: Arnold Challenged The Rule & Rejects The Task

Arnold: why do you want me to say in one word

Good move.

From a social strategist’s point of view, it’s never good to try hard to comply when you’re not sure you can come up with a good answer because you expend a lot of effort, for uncertain and possibly mediocre output.

That doesn’t make you look very smart and quick-witted because despite your great effort, you still under-deliver.
It’s the opposite of what makes you look smart: to come up with great answer and get great results, with little investment (Sprezzatura, calls it Castiglione).

Of course smart critical thinkers know that doesn’t say much because it’s just one instance.
But very few people are smart critical thinkers. Plus, it’s simply human to rely on heuristics and, often, to jump to biased conclusions (Kahneman, 2011).
So you always lose points when you try hard, and fail.

Hence, the smart social strategist doesn’t try at all.

He either answers while ignoring the rule, or challenges the rule.

Better Alternative: Challente The Question, Without Challenging The Interviewer

By the way, there were many possible alternative solutions here.

A simple and more effective approach would have been to challenge the question, without challenging the interviewer.

For example:

Arnold: “Only one word? Wow, that’s tough man. I think we’ll have to settle for a tad longer version”.

Then, start answering the way YOU want it to answer.

But since you answered more diplomatically, the interviewer was a lot less likely to re-state his rule once again -and if he did, he would look like an annoying dic*head-.

Learn More:

Or skip directly to Power University to internalize the skills of frame control.

Step 3: The Interviewer Sticks To His Guns & Re-States The Rule

Interviewer(looks up, thinking, then back to Arnold, wiggling his index finger) one word only, Arnold (looks sideways to pile up pressure, then smiles)

Interestingly enough, in the beginning, the interviewer was probably falling into Schwazznergger frame.

Such as, he may have been trying to provide reasons why “one word only” was a fair question.
That’s one way to justify his request, which would re-empower Schwarzenegger.

Why would it re-empower Arnold?

Think about it:

Justifying your extra requests power-protects the receiver because good reasons also justify compliance.
Such as, good “reasons why” limit the extent of your power because you’re not making random rules, but are following a certain logic. And it makes their compliance less costly because there is now a reason why it makes sense to comply.

Plus, the simple act of justifying, even when the justification is not super logical, still re-empowers the receiver because you’re expending effort and showing some consideration for them through your explanation.

However, the interviewer here does not justify.

He probably remembered he was the interviewer and decides he sticks to his initial request, without any explanation.

And notice how he re-states his frame:

He wiggles his middle finger, he simply repeats the tasks (frame imposing), and looks sideways to pile up more social pressure.

However, the sideways look also takes some edge off because it frames it as a “friendly challenge”.

PLUS, he adds smiles to take some edge off:

It was a smart choice to add a slight smile because otherwise, he would have been TOO confrontational.

The smile made it a bit less power-taking dominant, and a bit warmer.

The sub-communication is:

“yes, I’m still tasking you again with the same exact rules and not budging, but I’m not tasking you in a rude manner, we’re joking around and still friendly (just remember that I make the rules though)”.

Step 4: Arnold Refuses Compliance Once Again

Arnold: I don’t stay with your rules

His reply now is a straight challenge to the interviewer’s authority.

Arnold defends his power in a very high power and direct fashion.

However, something interesting happens right after:

Step 5: Arnold CAN Think Of A Great 1-Word Answer & Goes For It

Arnold: Dream!

And that’s also a great lesson learned for us all: pick your battles.

Don’t escalate everything.

Whenever you can go for win-win, always go for it.

The interviewer got the reply he wanted, Schwarzenegger came out of it looking smart and inspiring, the interview turned into a classic, and they both came out of it better off.

Strategic Considerations

It’s likely that Arnold was thinking exactly in the terms we expressed:

  • Maintain power
  • Provide a smart answer
  • Challenge the rules if you can’t come up with a great answer
  • Obey the rules IF it’s also good for you

Arnold is a typical alpha male, high power, and a very strategic operator.

No wonder he has become as successful as he has.

Is it possible you may also gain with those mindsets and skills?
If so, we equip thousands of happy and successful men with those mindsets, confidence, and skills in Power University.

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