How to Appear Powerful: Robert Greene’s 3 Strategies

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Daily Laws" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Would you like people to perceive you as powerful? How can you take better control of the impression you make?

People are watching you, and they’re making judgments. That’s a fact you can’t change. But, according to Robert Greene, you can influence their judgments to a higher degree. He offers recommendations in three areas of your professional and social life.

Read more to learn how to appear powerful to others.

How to Appear Powerful

Greene advises you to be mindful of the way you appear in social settings. To gain power, you must adopt a suitable appearance based on the expectations of your current situation. Greene explains that people make decisions about you based on the way you present yourself. Learning how to appear powerful—controlling how you behave, dress, and speak—allows you to leave good impressions and achieve social success. For example, it’s more appropriate to wear a suit at an orchestral audition than a rock band audition. At the former, you’d want to act courteously. At the latter, you’d want to act more expressively.

(Shortform note: In The Magic of Thinking Big, David J. Schwartz says that dressing your best not only commands more respect from others but also increases your own self-respect. He argues that before you can be powerful in the eyes of others, you must have high self-confidence. What you wear, Schwartz explains, affects how you view yourself. In each environment, he suggests you ask yourself whether you look like someone important.)

While you’ll want to adjust your appearance depending on the situation, here are three of Greene’s strategies that will increase your control over any situation:

Element 1: Reputation

According to Greene, you can control how others perceive you by developing a strong reputation—a public image that people associate you with. A strong reputation gives people the impression that you’re powerful, allowing you to influence and intimidate others. Greene suggests you base your reputation on a unique quality that you have, such as a quirky personality trait or style of dress. Then, build your reputation further by adopting universally positive traits such as humility, open-mindedness, and generosity. While appearing ordinary may be relatable, it won’t make you seem alluring or valuable. When you act special, people treat you as such.

(Shortform note: A different way to think about your reputation is as establishing a personal brand—the skills, images, and values that you want people to associate with you. Having a personal brand allows people to recognize your unique value, which helps you not only influence others, as Greene points out, but also attract more career opportunities. You can strengthen your personal brand by getting involved with projects that reflect your brand, finding like-minded people who can share your message, and creating or reposting content.)

Element 2: Independence 

Greene argues that, the more control you have over your emotions and choices, the more power you have. To maintain control, you must stay independent and detached in your social interactions. When you take things personally, you lose the ability to approach situations rationally and with control. Avoid taking sides, making commitments, and getting dragged into unnecessary conflicts—if someone you know is angry at someone else, stay calm and objective. Similarly, be careful when accepting gifts because they make you feel obligated to give something in return.

(Shortform note: One way you can stay out of other people’s drama is by setting boundaries, which involves clearly voicing your limits. In Essentialism, Greg McKeown writes that setting boundaries helps you gain respect in the long run and allows you to focus your energy on what truly matters to you.)

Element 3: Mystery

According to Greene, a person of power maintains an element of mystery and unpredictability. If you’re an open book, people can easily tell what you want and what your next move will be, which leaves you vulnerable and not in control. Greene suggests three methods to appear mysterious and unpredictable:

Method 1: Say less and keep the meaning of your words as open to interpretation as possible. This makes it harder for people to figure you out, which makes you both interesting and intimidating. If you talk too much, you risk revealing vulnerabilities or sounding foolish. In particular, avoid over-explaining your mistakes—by doing this, you only draw attention to them and make them seem more glaring. Instead, address them simply or ignore them completely.

(Shortform note: While being ambiguous with your language can lend you an air of mystery, be careful not to take it so far that you become irritating or come off as passive-aggressive. Experts argue that people often use indirect communication during conflicts to hint at their point without offending the other person. Instead, especially during conflicts, experts recommend you communicate your feelings clearly, as this gives others the chance to express their own perspectives and allows for productive solutions rather than repressed bitterness.)

Method 2: Be absent from time to time. When you’re always around, people start to take you for granted. Instead, take advantage of the law of scarcity: The less of something there is, the more coveted it becomes. Greene advises withdrawing occasionally to increase people’s desire to see you.

(Shortform note: In Influence, Robert Cialdini explains that we value things with limited availability because scarcity often accurately reflects how valuable something is. When there’s less of something, we often assume it’s because there’s great demand for it. If you give people the impression that your time and company are in short supply, people will value your presence and prioritize you more. You can enhance this effect, Cialdini explains, by adding an element of competition: If you hint that another person is demanding your time, you’ll make others more eager to capture some of your time or attention.)

Method 3: Be unpredictable. Prevent people from understanding you by constantly shifting your behaviors, entertaining new perspectives, and acting against expectations. This way, people won’t be able to read your intentions and manipulate you. For instance, Greene says you should talk excessively about your secondary goals to distract people from your true goals.

(Shortform note: Although being unpredictable might throw off your opponents when making power plays, many relationship experts contend that being predictable helps form stronger and long-lasting relationships because it makes you seem more trustworthy. Acting unpredictably makes it harder to form intimate connections as people feel insecure and view you as unreliable.)

Exercise: Craft Your Powerful Appearance

Your appearance influences how other people view you and, consequently, how much power you have over them. Brainstorm ways you can craft a more powerful appearance.

  • First, you must create a strong reputation. List a unique quality that you can build your reputation around. How might you highlight this quality more in your social interactions?
  • Another important aspect of a powerful appearance is maintaining your independence. Reflect on a time when you got emotionally involved in a situation and lost control. What can you do to remain more calm and detached in the future?
  • Consider Greene’s suggestions on how to be more mysterious (speaking less or more vaguely, being absent occasionally, and being less predictable). How might you practice one of these strategies?
How to Appear Powerful: Robert Greene’s 3 Strategies

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Robert Greene's "The Daily Laws" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Daily Laws summary:

  • Why our beliefs tend to leave us feeling unhappy and unfulfilled
  • How to attune yourself to the reality of how the world really works
  • How to manage your emotions and develop rationality

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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