The Authoritative Sniff

I remember first noticing ‘the authoritative sniff’ about ten or eleven years ago.  John Ragsdale and I were hanging out (actually, I think we were supposed to be working).  Back then, the lines were very blurred between hanging out and working.   Anyway, we noticed a colleague that would make a statement and then sniff a little sniff.  It was always accompanied with a slight pucker of the lips.

The sniff always followed a statement with very technical jargon or a statement that was risky for the speaker.  Risky in the sense that we might not approve of the statement.  Over time, we begin to realize that the sniff somehow made him feel more comfortable with what he said.  The sniff had absolutely nothing to do with allergies or the relocation of nasal fluids.  In fact, it sounded if there was nothing in the nose at the time of the sniff.

It was the “authoritative sniff”.

The sniff was a sort of warm blanket for his exposed conversation.  So, what did John and I do?  We began to sniff also!  It was amazing the effect that it had on ourselves.  Over the years, I have found more authoritative sniffers!  Each person has a slight variation on the tone and depth of sniff.

Not everyone does it, mind you.  You can’t just strike up a conversation with someone in the mall and expect for them to sniff authoritatively.  However, I am sure if you start listening you will start witnessing the sniff.  OR it is possible that you are doing it and don’t even notice.  I would love to sit down with a true psychologist and discuss with them why this happens.  I wonder if it has been scientifically studied.

Is there a danger to it?  Does it mean that there is something wrong with you if you like to drop a sniff here or there?  That is a question that I am leaning toward ‘no’ on.  Of course, I do not have a PhD.  I will say that if the sniff makes you feel better, then go ahead…sniff proudly.



About pastorrobin

Hello. I pastor PromiseLand Church in San Marcos, TX. I am married to Erica, and we have 3 kids: Kennady, Jude, and Avery. All little ones! Visit our church site at

Posted on January 19, 2009, in Random Mumbling. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. babe. you are brilliant. I am convinced I have a form of a “sniff”, but it is more like just stating something too mater of factly.
    others just do it by being silent.
    Very thought provoking! love it.

  2. i am on the road reading this from my phone.what great memories & even greater insight. Probably the most popular authoritative sniffer is Barney Fife…

  3. yes, john! thanks for the confirmation comment!! Barney was on the extreme level!

  4. Pastor,

    I’ve noticed the sniff, but on people who brag about something they’ve recently accomplished. I notice this with contractor and customer that I deal with on a daily basis as in ‘I’ve just sold $X of equipment’, sniff and then a quiet moment, I can only assume the quiet moment is so it will sink into my memory.

    And here I thought I was the only one that picked up on those awkward social cues!

  5. Ruben, nice point. So true.

  6. Iam sniffing right now, but I thought it was because there was something in the Air. But I do sniff when Iam laughting my head off.
    Am I in the twilight zone today ??
    Got to go. sniff sniff

  7. i know many sniffers. i have a “tick” of my own. i rub my nose with my thumb. look out for it. i’m trying to stop, but it’s HARD!

  8. Bad news, Jacob. Non-verbal communication happens on a subconscious level and is a lot harder to stop once we pick up the habit. This is why we trust or not trust somebody after having a face to face conversation; it is a lot harder to lie with body language. Since the Authoritative Sniff is non verbal, it is harder for most folks to respond verbally, even though it conveys the sniffer’s assertion of authority.

  9. I don’t think I trust “sniffers”. If you have the authority then why sniff? If you know for sure then why sniff. I’m not sure about this sniffing thing. Could you imagine Obama sniffing?

  10. Hahaha…this is good on so many levels but also makes me concerned if I am sniffing. Luckily, I have you cousin to bring my sniffing to light and I will no longer be getting high on the fumes of my own puffed up attitude/words or at least I will recognize it for what it is.
    Your really good, Robin!

  11. I’ll remember that next time were playing poker 😉 sniff sniff

  12. This is awesome… I have come in contact with a lot of sniffers, but I never really thought about it until just now… I am gonna ask my psych professor!

    – James

  13. Sniffing is thought by body language experts to express disgust, so in this case the authoritative sniff is expressing disgust to the inferiors receiving the message. Not ideal really.

  14. I commented above, but not sure you got it, so I’ll repeat. Love your comment on the authoratative sniff. I can just see the pucker now!!!

  15. I hate sniffers. Usually happens when I’m doing my own thing and they sniff to get my attention or seem to find my audacity at ignoring their regal presence unpleasant. I find them unpleasant. I would think if they also found something to be angry with me about they would show contempt, defined as anger+disgust….definitely people for me to avoid, yech.

  16. Sniffing could be a form of giving you self confident in what you say or do, however some people also use it for other purposes, which I would explain shortly with a true story. When People have low selfesteem and what to look confident would also sniff. I know someone who does it when I walk by and this I figured is a nervous reaction. This person and I don’t get along and there is a tension between us. When this person X, see me will sniff for no reason. It’s funny or silly to me whenever I even pass X’s office will sniff. My presence is Intimidating, therefore X sniffs.

  17. My partner is an Authoritative Sniffer!! I absolutely agree with your theory, it’s like a blanket to the speaker to not feel so exposed by their opening up and discussing things. I’ve always felt like it puts him psychologically in front of who he’s speaking to because he has feelings of inadequacy.
    When he talks to other men in a social situation he folds his arms, thrusts his chest out and sniffs away the entire conversation. It’s really a sight to behold 😄 and he has no idea why he does it and is unaware is even doing it.
    His sniffing also appears to punctuate the feeling of accomplishment he feels when he points out buildings he’s helped build or things he’s done in his life.
    Interesting subject for sure!

  18. Ha! Thanks for commenting!

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