With limbs, lungs, and lips suitably primed, we move on to a drama lesson. Gruenfeld and Kostopoulos begin with a scene about two actresses jockeying for status on a movie set. Gruenfeld starts out confidently dominant and Kostopoulos, meekly deferential—the fundamental styles of interaction that directors call playing low status and playing high status. Then suddenly they change posture: Gruenfeld's friendly demeanor morphs into barely disguised scorn. And Kostopoulos, with her shoulders hunched and her toes turned inward, transforms into a shy, schoolgirlish wisp of a thing. As the scene continues to unfold, it becomes clear that the power gradient between them has nothing to do with the script, and everything to do with how they use their bodies.
When it's my turn to act, I am paired with a 20-something woman named Amneh, a recent business school graduate. As we begin, Amneh's chin is down, her eyes flicking up to my face only occasionally. "Oh, I'm sorry! I'm driving you crazy!" she blurts with a nervous laugh, shrinking into her seat, knees pressed tightly together, elbows digging into her sides. Every so often, she fidgets, smoothing her eyebrows or adjusting her scarf.
I lean back comfortably in my seat, draping my arm over the chair between us. Kostopoulos nudges my foot, prompting me to stretch my legs in front of me. I cross them at the ankles.
"I can get used to anything," I say. "That's one of my strengths." I am looking directly at Amneh, holding my gaze steady.
"That's funny," she chirps. Her hands are now pinned under her thighs, which makes her seem even smaller.
Kostopoulos interrupts: "Don't raise your eyebrows as you ask the question."
"Why?" I say again, stone-faced.
Amneh giggles and clears her throat before saying, "That's my strength, too." She ventures a brief, unconvincing smile before dropping her gaze to the floor.
I stand up, walk a few paces, then slowly turn to face her. My weight is evenly balanced on both feet; my hands rest lightly on my hips. I am about to respond when I feel Kostopoulos's cool hands grasp my head from behind, lifting my chin higher and lengthening my spine.
"Now go," she says.
I start to speak, but Kostopoulos interrupts again: "Slower."
I try again, more leisurely this time.
"Even slower," Kostopoulos says, her hands still cupping the sides of my head.
I try once more, enunciating every syllable. It feels awkward, speaking so slowly, standing so squarely, holding my head so still. I am fighting an urge to fold my arms over my chest. But as I talk, I feel a rising recognition that my aloof posture has put me in control. I could eat Amneh for lunch.
Keeping up this facade with Kostopoulos clutching my skull, however, proves beyond my abilities. A moment later, the spell is broken, and Amneh and I burst into laughter. Still, these few minutes of playacting have palpably demonstrated how minor physical adjustments can profoundly alter the course of an interaction.
We Hear You!