Mind your (body) language: how your posture can give you a real “presence” at work
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
If you’re a freelancer or you run a small business, you need to show your customers you’re professional, assertive and self-assured. But even for the most competent of business owners, demonstrating it to others can be a terrifying prospect. So next time you're preparing for a presentation or an interview, have a think about some of the non-verbal techniques you can adopt.
Power-posing, for instance, is a term which was first coined by social psychologist and body language expert, Amy Cuddy. Cuddy is best known for delivering the second most-watched TED talk in history: How body language shapes who you are. It’s a fascinating 21-minute video on self-improvement techniques and is definitely worth a watch if you have time.
So what’s it all about? Many of us subconsciously judge others by their body language, but here, Cuddy provides great insight into you – and your body language – by making you consider habits that you were probably never aware of before.
Cuddy begins her session by suggesting that by changing your posture for just two minutes – perhaps before entering a stressful situation such as a new client pitch – you can dramatically change the way you feel both emotionally and physically, and gain the confidence and competence you need to achieve the desired outcome.
In essence, by adopting a high-power position versus a low-power position, it actually makes you feel physically and emotionally different. Here, Cuddy makes you sit up and pay attention to the way you carry your body subconsciously. For instance, what are you doing right now? Are you hunching your back, or perhaps wrapping your ankles around each other?
It's fascinating is how the subtlest of non-verbal communications – such as a handshake or lack of a handshake – can speak volumes about the relationship between one person and another when they interact. In the same way, subtle body language can be surprisingly influential over hugely important things, such as hiring someone for a job, or perhaps asking someone out on a date.
What is also surprising – shocking even – is that judgements are made over how “nice” a person seems (through their body language and outward appearance) over and above their actual competence. For example, a doctor may not be prosecuted for a wrongdoing if they were perceived to be a friendly person.
Even in the digital world, non-verbal communications, such as emoticons in social posts, can transform a brand’s messaging completely. As we advise our clients, using the right emoji in their Facebook or LinkedIn posts – be it a smile, frown or other some expression – will help to create the right buzz around their business.
It’s all about you
The key to changing how other people judge you and your company by your non-verbal communications is to become aware of them yourself. When you walk into a room with people you don't know, consider whether you are adopting expressions of power, pride or dominance (such as opening your body out with your chin up and reaching your arms up in a Usain-Bolt-style "V" shape) or conversely; weakness, shame or submission (curling your body up in defence and lowering your chin).
When we come up against someone who is adopting a particular stance, we don’t tend to mirror their actions - instead we do the opposite. So if someone walks into the room and starts to dominate the space around us, we’ll likely react by cowering our bodies ever so slightly. This is often relative to gender, so it’s worth considering the positions you adopt in relation to others around you of the same, or opposite sex.
Can you fake it?
Another interesting fact is that when you’re forced to hold a pen in your mouth, for example, it makes you smile and therefore actually makes you feel happy without you consciously thinking about it. You’ll need to watch the full video to discover how you can adapt your body language for various situations – be it business or social. But the key is, next time you find yourself in an unusual situation with people who you are familiar with or comfortable with, make a conscious note of what they’re doing, and what you’re doing.
And while it might not be appropriate to strike the “V” in the middle of that all-important business pitch, there's no reason you can't spend you spend two minutes adopting a power pose in the restroom before you enter. You’ll be amazed how much it will help, and it could even change the whole outcome of the meeting! Have we mentioned this is fascinating stuff?!
Cuddy concludes her session with some poignant words: “Don’t just fake it until you make it; but fake it until you become it”, meaning if you believe in yourself and your body language enough, you’ll actually become a much more confident person naturally, and without needing to fake it.
If you’re hooked by the video, and looking for more self-improvement tips, why not delve into Cuddy’s bestselling book, Presence? It’s one of our favourites, too!
Image courtesy of theformfitness