How to Gain Respect: Body Language Is Key

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "12 Rules for Life" by Jordan Peterson. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Do you wish that people valued and respected you more? What can you do to make that happen?

Jordan Peterson argues that others will treat you with more respect if you simply stand up straight. There’s a deeply-ingrained biological reason for this. Understanding the science behind it and leveraging it to your advantage can cause you to behave differently. As a result, people will treat you differently.

Read more to learn how to gain respect.

How to Gain Respect

In his book 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson explains how to gain respect using body language. The key, he says, is to stand up straight. Here’s why.

The Biology of Social Status

Because social status is so important in life outcomes, you try to figure out where on the social hierarchy you are, you signal that position to other people, and you jockey for a higher position. Sound familiar? These are deeply evolved, biological behaviors.

There is a primordial calculator in your brain (the medial prefrontal cortex) that monitors signals to figure out your position in society. It recognizes how others behave around you, and it infers your social standing. Then, based on where you think you are in the hierarchy, you change your perceptions, values, emotions, and actions.

  • If others kowtow to you, you believe you’re higher on the social hierarchy.
  • If others belittle and reject you, you believe you’re lower on the social hierarchy. 
  • (Shortform note: There’s an interesting experiment where an alpha male monkey is with a pack of other males, and the submissive behavior of the other males reinforces the alpha’s perception of himself. But if you put the alpha male in front of a one-way mirror, where he can’t see the submissive behavior of other males, he lowers his serotonin. The point is, seeing how others behave toward you is important for figuring out your hierarchy.)

Through feedback loops, you can become stuck in a low social position. You behave in a subordinate way, which makes others treat you as a subordinate, which makes you feel more subordinate, which makes you behave subordinate.

How Body Language Affects Your Social Status

If all this is true, then—to elevate your social status—first you need to signal your confidence through external body language. Peterson suggests, “stand up straight, with your shoulders back.” People will perceive you as higher in social status, and they’ll treat you as competent and able. This will then kick off a virtuous cycle – because you’re receiving positive signals from others, you’ll increase your own self-worth, which will make you act even more confidently.

This begins with your body language, but you also need to improve your self-beliefs. Speak your mind, put your desires forward, and dare to be dangerous. This is the beginning of developing self-respect, accepting the demands of life, marking your space, and standing up to tyranny.

Peterson suggests that there are people who specifically prey on those who behave submissively. This could cause an artificially low perception of status and make it hard to crawl out of your vicious cycle. Instead, if you kick off the change by appearing confident, people will treat you as though you have value.

How to Gain Respect: Body Language Is Key

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  • Why standing up straight will make people treat you differently
  • How to find meaning in your life and work
  • Why you're lying to yourself without realizing it

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books 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 creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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