Is it the Nasty People who get ahead?

The power of natural authority

Is it the nasty people who get ahead, natural authority, hold your own against dominant people

How to claim your natural authority and hold your own against dominant people

We’ve seen them in films and on TV, and we’ve read about them in books. The nasty guys who get to the top and throw their weight about. -And make everyone else’s life a misery. They’re the dominant types, the alpha types, the bullies that make a lot of noise and we love to hate.

But we hate to work for them, be around them, be in relationship with them or have them in our family. And we breathe a sigh of relief when we finally get shot of them.

Unless, of course, you’re one of them yourself, or you get a buzz from challenging and engaging with this type. You thrive on their energy and determination – they inspire you to succeed.

Is it the Nasty People that Get Ahead?

Many people, as a result, believe that being nasty is necessary for success. This is because they see the people who are prepared to throw their weight around getting promotions. They get rewarded for the hard work of others, they get away “with murder,” and win all kinds of other advantages for themselves.

In fact, that’s what I used to believe myself. I saw these kinds of people achieving things that I couldn’t, and I gave up any hope that I could excel in this kind of way. But I didn’t want to be like them. I didn’t want to play their game—I just didn’t really have it in me.

I couldn’t in my wildest dreams imagine myself behaving like that, and I would have hated myself for doing so. Even if I hadn’t, I know that if I had, it would have backfired on me, lost me friends, and left me worse off than before.

Is it the nasty people who get ahead, hold your own against dominant people,
Most of us are fed up with the dominance/ subservience games that we all play at times.

And I was fed up with them undermining me, walking all over me, taking advantage of me, manipulating me, dis-empowering me and generally dominating me. 

I was also fed up with feeling angry that they could get away with this behaviour. I was angry with myself for giving my power away to them, for failing to be assertive once again, and for losing my own self-respect. It was yet another nail in the coffin of my crumbling self-esteem.

But is it really the nasty types who get ahead – in the long term? Does being nasty, bullying and overpowering people really help you win friends and influence people? Or does it, in the end, backfire on you?

In this article, I hope to show you that you don’t have to be nasty to get ahead. In fact, you can get much further by not being nasty. But you do need to know how to play the game, which does not require you to resort to anything underhand. It does require you to make a shift within yourself.

Another Way to Build Confidence and Self Respect

Much later in my life I discovered there was another way of interacting with these people that was a lot more effective – and helped to build my self-respect and confidence – and meant that these kinds of people, whilst unpleasant to deal with and be around, didn’t get to dis-empower me.

It also meant that they wouldn’t even think of approaching me to do the menial tasks that no one else wanted to do.

Is it the nasty people who get ahead, hold your own against dominant people
Finding a way – so other people don’t get to disempower you

Here’s an example of when this happened to me.

There was a very difficult man at the place I used to work with. He was really a very unpleasant man and everyone loathed him. Other people that I worked with got into terrible battles with him, but somehow, he always got his way, which meant they hated him even more.

I had to deal with him on a regular basis, and although I did find it hard since I have never been very good at conflict, I found a way of standing my ground and quietly asserting what I wanted. I can’t say that I felt terribly good about it.

But this man did offer me all sorts of advantages, It was only much later that I discovered that he treated me with a lot more generosity and respect than my more assertive colleagues.

I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I was drawing on behaviour that I’d learned in the Keith Johnstone improvisation classes I’d taken years ago. I now teach these to my clients, so I see them achieving in areas that previously they found very difficult.

Interview Success!

One young woman came back triumphant from a job interview. She said:

“I could see the guy interviewing me was doing a “high status” thing on me and I could feel myself shrinking and started to feel that the interview wasn’t going very well and that I was losing confidence.

I didn’t like the way he was making me feel but because I know what he was up to, so I started raising my status – and the effect was amazing. I saw him visibly shift in how he was relating to me.

He started to take me a lot more seriously and as a result, I felt more confident. And I walked out of the interview feeling great because I hadn’t let him get the better of me.”

She had done exactly what I had done with the horrible man at work. I had raised my status so that he now began to view me in a different light. He didn’t know why he was viewing me differently or why he now saw me as an equal, an ally, and someone he wanted on his side.

Another participant used it on what was normally a difficult interchange with her boss. She came back thrilled at how raising her status had achieved a dramatic shift in her communication with him and how much better she felt about communicating with her boss.

Playing The Game

So, what is this “raising status” business, and how can you apply it to the situations in your life that you find so difficult?

Status is a game – a game that is being played out everywhere. You see it in the street, in the tube, at work, amongst your friends, in your relationships and particularly in your family.

Is it the nasty people who get ahead, hold your own against dominant people
Status is a game

It’s almost certainly at work when family member always manages to get their way – irrespective of their actual position in the family. It’s at work when someone in accounts has the directors dancing to their tune.

Ancient Roots

The roots of status are ancient. Status is played out in the animal kingdom and humans have played this game out since time immemorial. One of the reasons that this game has such a powerful impact is because it is also the game of survival. This is where it gets confusing. As a result, many people find themselves believing that winning at this game is absolutely crucial.

Out in the wild, dominance rules. The less dominant are driven out, rejected, and may even die.

Deep down, at an unconscious level, most people believe that they have to win this game even though their survival no longer depends on it. This is in spite of fact that they may also hold other, more worthy beliefs and values.

One man wrote on my blog demonstrating how potent these dynamics are and how they influence us at the deepest level:

I’m a male and I found myself comparing myself to other males in terms of physical appearance.

I always believed that people with strong physical posture (e.g. height, body mass, etc.) have an advantage in attracting attention and respect both in general settings or in relational ones (especially from members of the opposite gender).

No wonder this is an area of such deep anxiety for many people.

Social Influences

This is complicated by the fact that humans have become socialised over the millennia, and these social pressures are far more important. Jane Goodall, in her study of chimpanzees, discovered that the dominant chimp was not the biggest and strongest but the one who had won the allegiance of the other chimps in the group.

This is the same for humans – we seek social acceptance and the more accepted we are by others, the more likely we are to thrive.

On top of this, you may have won acceptance in your family through disempowering yourself. So this becomes a very different way of surviving that is equally powerful.

Indeed, most people find it very difficult to stop disempowering themselves when they move away from their families. It has become a habit, and they will play out these behaviours with other people ad infinitum.

This was one of my patterns, and it affected absolutely everything: how I related to friends and people at work, my career prospects and my romantic relationships. Even more imported, it affected how I related to myself.

I had to unlearn those habits which had by this time become second nature.

Thus these two influences of dominance and socialisation are competing against each other – and causing significant confusion.

Learning Status

But there is a way out of this, that will very quickly enable you to reverse this programming.

When people come to my improvisation classes they learn how to play both high status and low status.

High status wins you authority and respect and low status wins you friends and supporters. In actual fact, both are crucial because there are some situations where playing low status can be very beneficial. And others where raising your status can shift some of the very powerful programming that is keeping you stuck in unhelpful roles. This is what happened to the young woman at the interview (above).

Most of us tend to play one status more than another as our default mode. Sometimes, this works for us, and sometimes, it doesn’t. There are downsides to both.

High status can get you trapped in ego battles and one-up-manship. The stress of having to keep up appearances. Ultimately it’s a lonely position that maintains hierarchy and keeps you remote from other people.

Low status can keep you stuck in the victim position and low self-esteem.

Is it the nasty people who get ahead, hold your own against dominant people
Hyacinth – trapped into playing high status “games”

Success story: Christine

Christine was the only girl in a family of three other brothers. She describes the dynamic of her family experience in this way:

When I was a child, my mother was in a very positive high status looking after the family. Then she lost her status and felt failure, guilt and shame when criticised, blamed and rejected by my father.

Then I replaced her to look after the family and I was in a positive high status trying to please and serve my father.

Later, the same way as my mother I was criticised and rejected by my brothers.

Frustrated by her relationships with the very dominant men in her family, Christine had developed a strategy for coping. She escaped her country of origin, built a life of her own and became a free spirit.

But this did not help her when it came to dealing with her brothers. Years later she was still being undermined and overpowered by her brothers. She was playing out the same victim role she had seen her mother play.

A Big Shift

Christine had been coming to my workshops for years and she had made significant progress. But she had remained an adept and very appealing low-status player. As a result, still struggled in her relationships with other people – particularly her family.

The shift that Christine made during the status exercises was remarkable.

When it came to doing the high-status exercise, because Christine was a low-status specialist, as a result of her experiences in her family, she did not choose the easy path. She could have chosen a higher social position in the exercise and raised her status over her partner. But high status is not about social position, as Christine demonstrated.

Instead, she chose a much harder route by adopting a lower social status. However, she raised her status in much more subtle and powerful ways, ways that did not alienate her partner and produce an ego battle.

She did it in a way that won his respect and he could feel he was losing ground against her.

In fact, Christine knew exactly how to do this. She did what she had learned from her brothers and father. But she also added something that they couldn’t do. She raised her status in such a way that she didn’t threaten her partner. Therefore her partner did not respond by getting combative. Instead, he found himself feeling impressed by her and marvelling at her skill.

Finally, the unconscious behaviour she had learned in her family was working for her.

When she returned to the next session, Christine walked into the room with a confidence and authority that I had never seen in her before. She was a different woman. She was full of energy and aliveness, and she held herself in a way that automatically won respect yet also didn’t threaten others.

This is what I call “Natural Authority”. She had absorbed what was useful about playing the high-status game and integrated it into herself – so she both looked and felt great.

Natural Authority

When you have natural authority, others will recognise you as their equal and they will acknowledge that you have won their respect. They won’t say this so much in words.

They will do this in much more subtle ways—through body language, the tone of their voice, and by choosing a different way to relate to you. It would not occur to them to behave in all the underhand ways that I have described above. They will choose to deal that out to people who bring out the dominator in them.

Not you.

Natural authority also means that you are being the “real you”. You’re not putting on airs and graces that make others feel uncomfortable or bring out the competitive or aggressive side of them.

Adopting a higher status is really about being connected to your inner power.

Is it the nasty people who get ahead, hold your own against dominant people
The giraffe, a gentle animal, is naturally empowering itself – and you can be too.

Empowering Yourself

As Christine raised her status through shifts in how she was holding herself and using her own natural strengths – her survival strategy of being a free spirit began to serve her well.

Instead of using it to set herself apart as a non-player (because she didn’t want to play the dominance/submission game), she was making use of her natural skills. She achieved this by disarming her partner, so he didn’t even mind that she was raising her status above his. She wasn’t disempowering him – because she was empowering herself. And this was the key.

One of the reasons that nasty people get ahead is that they have natural authority. Their demeanour and way of expressing themselves are authoritative and empowered. It makes other people want to listen to them, and so they naturally have the ability to lead others. They have energy, and they make waves.

– and occasionally it is because they can do the unpopular jobs that will make them even more unpopular  –

You can achieve this without being nasty. You achieve it through being your Real Self – your empowered self. And then you will inspire others and others will be naturally drawn to you.

If you continue to do this over time, you will attract notice and respect, and others will begin to shift how they view you. And you will get that promotion.

When Christine walked into the class the next week with so much energy and aliveness – who wouldn’t want to listen to her, pay attention to her, engage with her and want to find out more about her.

She inspired others to relate to her in this way, and this is the secret.

How Can You Raise Your Status?

In the status exercises, participants learn how to raise and lower their status consciously. The fact that most of this behaviour is unconscious and automatic makes it so hard.

Practising doing this in a safe environment is important. You need a safe environment where others are going to support you – and where it won’t be the end of the world if you make a hash of it.

Being able to play the status game well relies on other skills too. A nd this is why I don’t teach it at the beginning of the improvisation class. You need also to unlearn some of the habits that are keeping you stuck in your head and master other skills that enable you to respond in a more natural way.

As Christine said:

Your improv course gave me a chance to live from my solar plexus (instincts), rather than from my conditioned mind, through my body, my emotions and by being spontaneous. 

This was possible because of the safety and encouragement of the group. So I could practice being my Real Self in relation to other people, which I could not be before I joined the group

In the weeks in between each session, I did experience the flash back of feeling completely sick in relation to certain people. And the sick-feeling completely disappeared by the time  I attended the next session.


She couldn’t have achieved this kind of shift without making other shifts from the earlier classes. So I offer this exercise with the proviso, that it is far from a simple thing to raise your status in relation to challenging people. But this exercise will get you started.

Exercise – Rasing your status when confronted by dominant people

Think of a situation where other people succeed in making you feel small or disempowered. You may consider these people nasty or dominant, alpha types. Remember the situation in as much detail as possible—what they said and how they said it, their body language, and what happened as a result.

You may want to write this out so you have a clear picture of how these people behave and the impact it has on you. For example, when my boss puts me down, I notice she has a very strident tone of voice, and I immediately feel as if I’ve done something wrong, and I find myself feeling defensive.

As you reflect on this, notice in more detail how you feel when you are the recipient of this treatment. Notice if this is triggering any memories from the past when you were disempowered.

Example: I feel myself shrinking inside, and I feel like a small child who’s being told off. I feel furious that she’s making me feel like this and furious with myself because I’m letting her put me down

Feel into your solar plexus and feel the power that lives in you. Let that build.

Imagine you are standing opposite the person and observing all the things that usually enables that person to put you down. Notice the feelings that usually cause you to feel disempowered. You may mirror that in your body so you become familiar with how it feels and so you can recognise it the next time you experience it.

Now begin tuning into the powerful feelings in your solar plexus and begin shifting your body so it aligns with that. i.e. You may find yourself subtly adjusting your spine, strengthening your neck, relaxing your shoulders, relaxing your facial muscles.

Play around with this until you find a bodily emotional position that is equal with the other person.

NB You’re not trying to put yourself above them or to diminish them or to say “I’m better than you”, You are just standing tall in who you are and you are feeling good about yourself and your actions.

In your imagination observe their diminishing behaviour alter in relation to yours so you are both empowered. You may want to imagine them acknowledging or recognising you for meeting them as an equal.

Practice raising your status when you are in confrontational situations with others. But start in a small way rather than in a really challenging situation.

I hope you find this exercise helpful, and it will enable you to start breaking the habit of disempowering yourself in relation to more dominant people.

Small successes practised regularly will build your confidence so you can eventually be successful in the situations that challenge you most.

In time, you will start feeling different inside yourself and be able to relate to others from a more empowered place.

 © Claire Schrader 2013 edited 2024

Want to learn how to build natural authority

You may like to sign up for my next I Don’t Know What to Say improvisation course in London to learn these skills. This is a special course to learn the basic tools and techniques of improvisation. It will also enable you to get out of your head, build confidence, and discover how to be witty, playful, and humorous in social situations.

This is more challenging than my other groups; however, for some people, it is absolutely the right first step. Contact me if you are uncertain if it would be right for you.

Stand Up for Yourself Course

Since writing this article, I have developed a new course that is specifically focused on enabling you to hold your own with a wide range of challenging people. This is an advanced course that draws on the drama skills you will have learned in other courses.

And you may like to check out this in the Charisma Course where we focus on speaking with authority.

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