Powerful people often bend the rules. But here’s a twist: If someone breaks rules, are they then perceived as powerful?
Scientists had 40 volunteers read various scenarios. One was about a person who, without asking, helped himself to a cup of coffee from another person’s pot. In another, a bookkeeper consciously ignored a financial error. The subjects also read about scrupulous coffee drinkers and bookkeepers. The subjects were then surveyed, and they rated the rule-breakers as being more in-control and leaderlike than the conscientious types. The research is in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
In another test, being publicly rude also seemed to engender a perceived sense of power. A hundred twenty-six subjects watched one of two videos. One of a man sitting in a sidewalk café and acting courteously, the other of the same man stretching his legs out on a chair next to him, tossing his cigarette ashes wherever, and barking orders at the cafe staff. Subjects thought the crude man was more likely to be a decision-maker and get his way than the same man behaving himself.
So next time you think someone is important, remember: They may simply be a jerk.