Body language is a powerful form of non-verbal communication. What’s fascinating about body language is it’s actually a two way street. We can use body language to interpret how people feel about others and themselves, but changing our own body language also has an influence on our mindset, and even our physiology. Social scientists have worked backwards with body language, and found that changing your physical stance will create measurable changes in your brain, and produce different outcomes.
In the animal kingdom there are lots of studies about primate activity and societies. They have found that in the social order the ones at the top have the lowest levels of stress hormones in their blood. These top-tier primates also have a very confident body language. Spreading out and taking up space is a way to communicate power to others. In our own society the same is true as well. Those that are inherently confident individuals tend to happily stand tall, come to the front of the group, and have no qualms about taking up visual space in a room. Conversely, people who aren’t very confident tend to make themselves appear smaller by crossing their arms, legs, and hunching. The visual difference between the body language of a confident person, versus a timid person is stark.
What the social scientists have found, however, is that working the body language angle can actually help a person become more confident. By making changes in the body language of chronically timid people, and changing it to mimic the body language of more confident people, they were hoping to also get the participants’ minds to change to become more like those confident individuals. Confident individuals tend to be more assertive, more optimistic, react less harshly to stress, and can think more abstractly. Who doesn’t want those qualities? What was found was that just a few minutes of holding ‘high-power poses’ created positive effects in the person doing them. The poses were comprised of standing in a sort of ‘wonder woman’ stance (standing tall, feet shoulder width apart, and hands on hips), or in a spread out seated pose (shoulders wide apart, arms outside of the body lines, and knees apart). These poses were done in private just a few minutes before job interviews, and each of the participants were judged by the interviewer as more enthusiastic, passionate, authentic, and having more presence. What power posing allows us to do is create a real change in our bodies by lowering our stress hormone cortisol, and relaxing our bodies in a situation that would be high stress. Doing a simple thing like this can make each person feel better about themselves, even if it feels strange at first.
Amy Cuddy, who pioneered this research, was originally a very timid person herself. She had to adopt a ‘fake it till you make it’ approach to becoming a confident person. She eventually became the confident person she is by doing things that didn’t feel natural to her at first. Eventually these tiny tweaks integrate themselves into your personality so you become confident without actually having to mindfully do anything. It’s a simple way to make sure that others will read your confident body language and judge you in a positive way. Since 90% of communication is non-verbal we all need as much help as we can get in that department. Standing up straight, making eye contact, and keeping shoulders wide are easy ways to be assertive in everyday interactions. Holding the power poses for just two minutes a day in private is a good way to start your journey to becoming a more confident individual. Holding a ‘super woman’ stance in public may not be so advisable, unless it’s halloween and goes with your costume.
The findings of this research are particularly important in regards to women in the workplace. The social scientists found that most of the chronically timid people in the study were women. They participated less in their classes, or felt like they were somehow undeserving of the their accomplishments. In a competition with other qualified individuals these chronically timid people would likely lose out to those showing more confidence simply because the non-verbal communication would permeate how their bosses would judge them. Making sure to help the women adopt power posing as a daily ritual helped level the playing field for many of them in their professional lives. Having a inherent confidence that communicates more of a person’s true self is a great thing. Making sure every woman has the ability to be authentic in her interactions with others will only help us move forward and achieve more.
The next time you have a big meeting, interview, or just a lunch with someone new, take a few minutes to do a power pose before you go. It may feel silly at first, but you are helping set yourself up for success. Hopefully, over time, the changes it makes will becomes so inherent in your personality that you will constantly exude confidence effortlessly, but for now it’s fine to take everything step-by-step. Looking like wonder woman in your bedroom mirror is a good start.