In her TEDTalk “Power Poses” Amy Cuddy explains how striking a new pose can change how powerful you feel. It’s true that people with power–media moguls, Olympic victors, monarchs–showcase that power through confident non-verbal communication. They stand up straight, take up space, maybe even reach their hands up high or relax with their feet kicked up on their desk. But Cuddy wondered if the reverse was also true. If expressing these same sorts of powerful poses could make a person feel power.
IE) If POWER —> POWER POSES, could
POWER POSES —> POWER???
Her study pointed to ABSOLUTELY! After asking participants to stand in various “power poses” for just two minutes, Cuddy found they experienced higher levels of testosterone (the “confidence” hormone) and lower levels of cortisol (the “stress” hormone). As a result, she encourages people to use her findings when they may need a dose of confidence or find themselves in a stressful situation.
Instead of hunching in a chair scrolling through notes on your iPhone, spend a few moments before a big interview stretched out as big as possible in the nearest bathroom stall. Have a big presentation at work? Close your office door, kick your feet up, and stretch your arms behind your head.
When I first watched the video of Amy Cuddy’s presentation, I really needed it. I wasn’t feeling all that powerful. I needed to find a job. I needed to make friends. I needed to do all those pesky-scary things that come with being in a different place from the one you’ve been in for seven years. In fact I was feeling pretty powerless. I’m sure my non-verbals weren’t doing a great job at hiding that fact.
But Cuddy’s “fake it ’til you make it” advice made a lot of sense. I knew from years of dance and competitive speech & debate that my body and my posture and my physicality could speak volumes and impact other’s perceptions of me. But now I realized I could turn that knowledge on it’s head and impact my perception of myself. I started doing yoga regularly (warrior poses are fantastic for this) and I began to make the conscious decision to take up more space.
Fast forward a few years and a few promotions (score!), Cuddy’s instructions began to sink in. I was in a position of power at my job and when I needed to communicate and exemplify that power, even if just to myself, power poses fit the bill.
My go-to posture in this new position became the same pose Cuddy opens with in her presentation; hands on hips, wide stance. Think: Wonder Woman. If I needed to persuade a customer or discipline an employee or haggle with a vendor, I was ready.
One unruly and frequently belligerent customer found himself getting familiar with my new stance of choice. When he was around trouble usually followed. So I wanted to feel powerful when confronting him. I also wanted him, and my employees, to know I. meant. business. I would saddle up to the scene, hands on hips, stance wide, spine straight. After finding himself on the receiving end of a Wonder Woman a few too many times this dude started to get…how shall we say, comfortable. He actually started mimicking my moves and mocking my posture.
“How dare he?” I thought. “Would he behave this way with a man?!” But each time he did this I continued to hold my ground. (Even when he would refer to my pose with such colorful language as “sassy” or “bitch.”) And then after his brief ridiculous displays were over he would follow my instructions, apologize, calm down, or rectify whatever other issue he had instigated.
These interactions proved to me the veracity of Cuddy’s claims. Because this dude was clearly threatened. A human twice my size with the ability to get twice as loud was threatened by my 5’3″ frame, soft voice, and calm demeanor.
I stood powerfully so I felt powerful. And this guy, for whatever reason, didn’t like that.
But guess what? My body didn’t need to speak apologies for HIS wrong-doings. Just like yours doesn’t need to speak apologies when you’re feeling powerless in front of a crowded room or when you’re feeling powerFUL.
So, yeah. Stretch your arms over your head before that interview, take up space, be noticed!
It feels pretty good.
If you’d like to implement the benefits of Power Poses, may I recommend this yoga video or this one. If you want to pose for a few minutes before an important, stress-filled happenin’ then check out this helpful chart.