The posture may have been dubbed the “Kindly Brontosaurus” but there’s very little companionable about it. In essence, it conveys contained aggression.
I have no difficulty in believing that it can work as a very successful tactic for air passengers to get what they want, but I doubt I’d have the balls to carry it through.
To be a Kindly Brontosaurus would take a very assertive and confident individual.
The technique is a subtle blend of deference and assertiveness, and is a blend of two well-known approaches but first you have to consider the power dynamic of this situation.
Airlines would appear to have the power to allocate seats. In practice, there are constraints on how the staff act. They don’t want customer complaints, they don’t want a scene, and they don’t want to spend too much time with you.
The two well-known approaches are what can be called the supine supplicant and the aggressive assertive postures. The first is more likely to have been tried with medieval kings – it could be embarrassing in an airport.
It is where a person lies on the floor, avoiding eye contact and putting themselves at the mercy of whoever they are approaching.
The second is by bullying but it only works against weak people.
Stand very close and directly in front, raise yourself to your full height, wave your arms about, point, perhaps make a fist, engage in intense eye to eye contact with chin jutting forward, and shout a lot.
Lean slightly forward from the waist – it’s a very aggressive posture.
Your best way is a blend of supplicant and aggression and this is what the Friendly Brontosaurus is. Leaning forward is aggressive. There is eye contact and the assertive chin, but there’s no pointing or angry expressions. It signals that you have power but are willing to make a deal.
The people who do it are basically people who are very assertive and have learned to tone it down. They have the power, they know how to operate but know how to rein it in to get their way.
It’s rather like the way senior mafia figures are portrayed in films – their words are honeyed but there is an awareness that behind the smiles they are dangerous to cross.
Professor Patrick O’Donnell is a social psychologist at Glasgow University
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