Power symbols are used to exert authority over others

People see straight through power symbols

Some individuals have a strong desire to exert power over others.

Power symbols are important to these people. What are power symbols?

I read with amusement that New Zealand Maori MP Rawiri Waititi was booted out of parliament for not wearing a necktie.

He objected to the tie rule, saying ties are colonial nooses. Days after, parliament ended the tie rule.

Ties are a classic power symbol because they make a clear statement that the person is a high-ranking white-collar worker.

When I met psychotherapy clients back in my psychologist-training days, I wore a specific tie that I thought made me look more professional.

I called the item my placebo tie.

Now that I am way past training, I almost never wear a tie for any purpose. Not with clients, not with students. My neck is FREE. And cool.

I like the look of some neckties because of their beauty. But I consider them silly.

The silliest looking ones are those lily-white ones, called bands, worn by lawyers and judges in some countries.


A suit often goes along with a tie. Ben Hamper wrote a funny book, Rivethead, about his days working on a car assembly line.

He and the other workers referred to the executives, who occasionally came down to the assembly line to yell at someone, as suits. I liked that term, and I have continued to use it for decades.

Suits and ties are not the only power symbols around. I have been at meetings where only the executives sat in cushy chairs with high backs.

Everyone else suffered along on a small plastic chair as hard as a rock.

I once worked in a medical hospital that had a psychiatrist who wore taps on his shoes. I could hear him walking the hard floors a hundred metres away.

I asked a psychiatric resident why the psychiatrist wore taps. His exasperated response: So people will know he is coming.

The psychiatrist became well known for developing a method of treating multiple families at one time.

The families would sit on the floor of a large room, and the psychiatrist and his female co-therapist would sit side by side on large cushy chairs like royalty.

You might wonder what power symbols I use. None, but I like to dress in costume as much as anybody, so I teach once a year in a black robe, like professors in olden times.

  • John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England