Body language: It tells others how to regard you, approach you, interact with you. Want to appear confident and authoritative? Act that way: Stand tall, look assertive and self-possessed. Claim the space you occupy. Others will notice and react accordingly. Amy Cuddy knows that projecting power confers power.
Cuddy, PhD, social psychologist and Harvard professor, delivered the June 20 keynote address — “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges” — at the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM’s) Annual Conference and Exposition in Washington, DC. Dr. Cuddy is an expert on how our body language affects ourselves and others, focusing on the power of posture to manage high-pressure situations and change thoughts, emotions and behaviors. As the SHRM 2016 program notes, “Her TED Talk on this topic is the second-most-viewed of all time, at over 32 million views. She was one of Time Magazine’s 2012 ‘Game Changers,’ Business Insider’s 2013 ‘50 Women Who Are Changing The World,’ and in 2014 was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.”
Cuddy can succinctly summarize her philosophy: expansion vs. contraction. “What kind of body language do we need to make ourselves feel powerful?,” she asked in her general session. “Pay attention to how you hold your body. Are you hunching your shoulders? Or are you holding them back and down? Are you crossing your arms and holding yourself? Or are you taking up your fair share of space?”
Cuddy cited research showing that people who adopted expansive postures for just two minutes exhibited a 20 percent jump in testosterone levels, a hormone associated with confidence, strength, assertiveness and risk tolerance. Conversely, individuals asked to present inhibited postures for two minutes experienced a 10 percent decrease in testosterone levels. Many animals, such as gorillas, elephants and swans, enlarge themselves when threatened or challenged, Cuddy notes. Humans who project a commanding presence raise their standing with others and foster the internal poise needed to take charge.
So-called power poses can help us through myriad intimidating situations, including job interviews, public speaking engagements and oral examinations. Even a few small body adjustments, such as straightening your back or uncrossing your arms, can alleviate anxiety and generate self-assurance. “By standing stronger, you feel stronger, think stronger, and become more connected with those around you,” Cuddy believes. Nonverbal power helps you “fake it until you make it.” Twitter buzzed with excitement over Cuddy’s general session (@amyjcuddy #SHRM16). A few tweets illustrate the impact of her message:
Cuddy’s ideas provide a simple recipe for big results: Project the confident individual you want to be, the person in control of the situation, and you will become that person.
Photo credit: Sarah Payne