Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Social Dominance

There are a number of words that are common jargon used in the manosphere that have negative connotations to people unfamiliar with the functional meanings of the terminology and how they apply to interpersonal relationships.

The word 'dominance' is foremost amongst such terms in causing an immediate negative reaction to newcomers to this corner of the interwebs. This is most likely due to the popular myth of "equality" that so many people think of as the "ideal" state of a male/female relationship.

Women especially seem to recoil in disgust when they first encounter the term being discussed by men on what they need to develop in order to become more attractive to women. They immediately associate dominance with 'abusive' and 'controlling.' This is the feminist cultural programming that causes this default reaction to the term. Many women don't even realize that 'dominance' is one of the primary traits of attractiveness that draws them to men who have it...or makes them shiver in disgust at the very idea of man who has none trying to get physically intimate with her.

A better way to think about dominance, is charismatic leadership. The most effective leaders are always the kind who inspire their followers to want to follow them of their own volition.

I sumbit that this is the true essence of game. When a man approaches a woman and opens her for an attempted seduction, he is essentially demonstrating to her "this is of my style of leadership, do you want to follow?" Note that this applies to both a man approaching a strange woman he's never met before and propositioning her...and a long married husband seeking marital relations with his spouse.

One of the staples of game advice for newcomers is to strive to be "dominant" and to "own the room" and work to be the Alpha Male of the Group (AMOG)...and they become domineering, mistaking that for dominance. I've made this mistake myself. When I first discovered game theory, I took this idea of AMOG and social dominance and misinterpreted it as a directive to hold as many people spellbound as I could with my loquacious, verbose monologues, not letting anyone get a word in edgewise. This is not being the alpha. It's being a self-absorbed, narcissistic douchebag. I would domineer conversations rather then lead them, failing to inspire others to join in with their perspectives and experiences.

While I eventually figured out that effective conversation requires a dialog rather than a monologue, it was largely due to experiencing a plethora of negative feedback -- mainly from my wife: "Why did you just talk over everyone there and not let anyone else speak? You were so rude!" Instead of being the AMOG, I became the ADOG....

Needless to say, my faux-alpha posturing was not achieving the desired results...with my friends, acquaintances, nor my wife. I eventually figured out the idea of "owning the room" in a group dynamic was from leading a conversation and finding ways to involve everyone in contributing, instead of lecturing in excess, projecting the idea that I love the sound of my own voice above actual conversation amongst the group.

But I never really understood, in explicit terminology, why my initial attempts to be the AMOG failed.

I just came across a recent article at The Art of Manliness that gave me another great "aha!" moment of understanding when I considered my past experiences in retrospect. My first attempts at being the AMOG, resulted in myself becoming a conversational narcissist.

In "The Pursuit of Attention," sociologist Charles Derber shares the fascinating results of a study done on face-to-face interactions, in which researchers watched 1,500 conversations unfold and recorded how people traded and vied for attention. Dr. Derber discovered that despite good intentions, and often without being aware of it, most people struggle with what he has termed “conversational narcissism.”

Conversational narcissists always seek to turn the attention of others to themselves. Your first reaction to this statement is likely, “Oh, I don’t do that, but I know someone who does!” But not so fast. Conversational narcissism typically does not manifest itself in obviously boorish plays for attention; most people give at least some deference to social norms and etiquette. Instead, it takes much more subtle forms, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. Everyone has felt that itch where we couldn’t wait for someone to stop talking so we could jump in; we pretended to be listening intently, but we were really focusing on what we were about to say once we found an opening.

In hindsight, this was one of my biggest problems. Hell, sometimes I still struggle with it....especially after a bit of an over-indulgence in libations. Thanks to this article, I now have an explicit framework of understanding, which, I think, should help me to abstain from this in the future.

I'll work on it.

A good conversation is an interesting thing; it can’t be a solely individual endeavor—it has to be a group effort. Each individual has to sacrifice a little for the benefit of the group as a whole and ultimately, to increase the pleasure each individual receives. It’s like a song where the rhythm is paramount, and each person in the group must contribute to keeping that rhythm going. One person who keeps on playing a sour note can throw the whole thing off.

That’s why it’s so important that conversations are cooperative instead of competitive.

This is where I had my "aha!" moment.

During a conversation, each person makes initiatives. These initiatives can either be attention-giving or attention-getting. Conversational narcissists concentrate more on the latter because they are focused on gratifying their own needs. Attention-getting initiatives can take two forms: active and passive.
Active Conversational Narcissism

The response a person gives to what someone says can take two forms: the shift-response and the support-response. The support-response keeps attention on the speaker and on the topic he or she has introduced. The shift-response attempts to set the stage for the other person to change the topic and shift the attention to themselves. Let’s look at an example of the difference between the two:


James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.
Rob: Oh yeah? What models have you looked at?


James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.
Rob: Oh yeah? I’m thinking about buying a new car too.
James: Really?
Rob: Yup, I just test drove a Mustang yesterday and it was awesome.

In the first example, Rob kept the attention on James with his support-response. In the second example, Rob attempts to turn the conversation to himself with a shift-response.

The shift-response if often very subtle. People put in a nice transition to disguise it by prefacing their response with something like, “That’s interesting,” “Really? “I can see that,” right before they make a comment about themselves. “Oh yeah?” And then they’ll tie their response into the topic at hand, “I’m thinking about buying a new car too.”

Now it’s important to point out that a shift-response just opens up the opportunity for a person to grab the attention, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to. It’s a matter of intent. You might simply be looking to highlight what the other person has said and share a bit of your own experience before bringing the conversation back to the other person. That’s a healthy and natural part of the give and take of conversation. Let’s turn back to Rob and James:

James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.
Rob: Oh yeah? I’m thinking about buying a new car too.
James: Really? Maybe we could go look around together.
Rob: Sure. So what models are you looking at?
James: That’s the thing—I’m not sure where to start.
Rob: Well, what are the most important things to you—fuel economy, storage room, horsepower?

So here Rob interjected about himself, but then he turned the conversation back to Rob. Conversational narcissists, on the other hand, keep interjecting themselves until the attention has shifted to them. Like this:

James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.
Rob: Oh yeah? I’m thinking about buying a new car too.
James: Really? Maybe we could go look around together.
Rob: Sure. I just test drove the Mustang yesterday and it was awesome.
James: That’s cool. I don’t think I want a sports car though.
Rob: Well, I want something with at least 300 horsepower and definitely leather seating. Did I ever tell you about the time my buddy let me take his Maserati out for a spin? Now that is an automobile.
James: Which one of your friends has a Maserati?

Most conversational narcissists–careful not to appear rude – will mix their support and shift responses together, using just a few more shift-responses, until the topic finally shifts entirely to them. Conversational narcissists succeed when they elicit a support response from their partner. “Which one of your friends has a Maserati?”

To summarize, it’s fine to share things about yourself, as long as you loop the conversation back to the person who initiated the topic. The best rule to follow is simply not to jump in too early with something about yourself; the earlier you interject, the more likely you are to be making a play to get the attention on yourself. Instead, let the person tell most of their story or problem first, and then share your own experience.

While the examples given involve to guys talking, this applies more so to male-female conversation. A dominant man that is highly attractive, is one who can lead a conversational dialog with support responses rather than competitive ones. Note the advice here: it’s fine to share things about yourself, as long as you loop the conversation back to the person who initiated the topic.

When you do this, you demonstrate your dominance. You're leading the conversation, not controlling or domineering it. In a group setting, the AMOG will be the guy who finds ways to include everyone in the group to relate their experiences or perspectives to add to the discussion. This is one I figured out through trial and error when I was being domineering rather than dominant.

Passive Conversational Narcissism

Conversational narcissism can take an even subtler form. Instead of interjecting about themselves and trying to initiate a new topic, conversational narcissists can simply withhold their support-responses until the other person’s topic withers away and they can take the floor.

To understand how this works, let’s first look at the three forms support-responses can take—each one represents an ascending level of engagement and interest with the topic and speaker:

Background acknowledgments: Minimal acknowledgments that you’re listening such as, “Yeah,” “Uh-huh,” “Hmm,” Sure.”

Supportive assertions: Acknowledgments that show active listening. “That’s great.” “You should go for it.” “That’s not right.”

Supportive questions: Questions show that you’re not only listening, but are interested in hearing more. “Why did you feel that way?” “What was his response when you said that? “What are you going to do now?”

A conversational narcissist can kill someone’s story dead in its tracks by withholding these support-responses, especially by not asking any questions. Etiquette dictates that we don’t ramble on and share every detail of a story right off the bat. We say a bit, and then wait for further questions, so we know that the person we’re speaking with is interested in what we have to say. In the absence of such questions, the speaker will begin to doubt that what they’re saying is interesting. So they’ll stop speaking and turn the attention to the other person. A victory for the conversational narcissist.

Conversationalist narcissists will also show their disinterest in the speaker by delaying their background acknowledgments–those all important “Yeah’s” and “Hmmm’s.” Good conversationalists place their background acknowledgments in just the rights spots, in the small natural pauses in the conversation. The narcissist tries to adhere to social expectations by giving the speaker some cursory acknowledgments, but they’re not really listening, and so they throw them in there just a few seconds off. The speaker easily picks up on this skewed-timing and will stop talking and shift their attention to the narcissist.

Ever here a woman lament that her husband or boyfriend "never listens to me?" This is the genesis of that complaint.

Avoiding these pitfalls of conversational narcissism will have you well on your way to becoming a competent and charismatic conversationalist. Once someone introduces a topic, your job is to draw out the narrative from them by giving them encouragement in the form of background acknowledgments and supportive assertions, and moving their narrative along by asking supportive questions. Once their topic has run its course, you can introduce your own topic.

This article has some great advice...but add this into the precepts of Game and the picture of social dominance that women find highly attractive becomes clear. When talking one-on-one with a woman you have romantic designs on, don't be competitive in your conversation, be supportive - but make those supportive assertions or supportive questions based on common game tactics: cocky-funny negs (which can be in the form of questions) or humorous observations that provide the opportunity for shared laughter without interrupting the flow of her topic.

This goes doubly so in group conversations for which a woman you are interested in or are already in a relationship with, is present. Show the ability to lead a group conversation that involves everybody participating (even if only marginally) and has everyone amused, laughing and enjoying it, you will be demonstrating your 'gina tingling dominance.

Social dominance is not the same as being a conversational narcissist, domineering a competitive debate. You may "win" the debate, but you lost out on creating good vibes, shared laughter and increasing your perceived charisma...which, as a man, is your primary trait for attracting female desire.


Toz said...

great insight as usual. i never connected the active listening stuff to game, but it totally makes sense. it sounds like you're advocating the use of the term "charismatic" instead of "dominant". if so, i think that's a step forward in theory.

Amateur Strategist said...

Yes, I think I've been guilty of the active variety many times, the passive variety just seems a bit heartless, so I don't think I've really done that... I definitely would've noticed.

Anyway, I think it's because I'm not used to conversing with people, or that I think I need to get my "story" out to people within the first five minutes of meeting them. In reality, there are many people I'll meet who won't need, want or should have all my life's story told to them, so why do I keep doing this?

Back on topic... How do you lead with supportive statements? By their design they come after a topic has been established... do you point out other areas of the topic?

dienw said...

The article needs to include the concept of maintaining an active face: one's facial expression can cause a person to cut short his end of the conversation; this of course will allow one to shift the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Roissy talks about alphas being "laconic" in conversation. I'll go along with that.

The Great and Powerful Oz said...

Good points! I know I tend to dominate conversations too much, mostly because I live in such isolation that I don't get a lot of interaction with people. I appreciate your reminder to watch myself.

jon w said...

Man this is good stuff. So obvious once you read it, but so often ignored because people don't think about it. Bookmarking this one to re-read and practice as it sinks in.

WP said...

Since the age of 18 or so, I've thought there was an art/technique to conversation. More importantly, keeping a good flow for all parties involved.

My observation is people are typically bad at including others (especially when freshly introduced) and hijacking the conversation back to themselves.

Definitely helpful to see it laid out in exact terminology, support & shift. As well as the varying degrees of supportive answers.

Anonymous said...

Salesmen have an expression, "The most interesting thing you can talk about is the customer and the most boring is yourself."

Anonymous said...

This may be one of the most useful things I have ever read. Thank you.