Even if you’re not a great reader of it, you will know that your body language communicates volumes to others. First impressions are formed in less than ten seconds and, overall, the actual content of what we say to someone will only comprise about 11% of the message they take away about us after an interaction – the rest is all about what social scientists call “non-verbals”.
But did you know that your body language can also change your own thinking and performance?
Research shows that if you adopt a “high-power pose” – one in which you physically spread out and open up, such as the crossing-the-finishing-line one or the don’t-mess-with-Wonder Woman variety – for just two minutes you will raise your testosterone and lower your cortisol. Those are the brain chemicals that create feelings of, respectively, dominance or anxiety.
Conversely, if you adopt a low-power pose – like one of the closed up, shrinking violets below, desperate to make themselves as small as possible – you lower your testosterone and raise your cortisol.
In both cases, the effect is almost instantaneous: just two minutes striking one of the poses and your brain chemistry alters, as does the impression you make on others.
Social scientists Amy Cuddy (of Harvard Business School) and Dana Carney (Berkeley) have done some pioneering work in the field. In an initial study, they found that striking high vs low poses accounted for up to a 30% spread in subjects’ brain chemistry and a similarly wide gap in their willingness to gamble (an indicator of dominance). In a follow-up study, in which subjects were asked to power-pose for two minutes before a grueling interview, it was, without exception, the high-power posers who impressed and got the job.
I’ve been experimenting on myself this week and, I promise, you this works. A few times a day, just take a moment to scan your body language. Particularly if you have a desk job, you are likely to find yourself hunched over your keyboard, shoulders slumped towards your screen. Sit back, stretch out, lift your arms up in victory. Or, as a rather loud and successful advertising guy who used to work for me did when he was on a sales call, get up and pace around your desk pumping your fists skywards. His hunched-over colleagues used to make fun of him but those were the sales he invariably closed.
Don’t just take my word for it. Amy Cuddy has given a fascinating TED talk on the research behind this, including her own experience of “fake it til you feel it til you become it’. It’s a must-watch.
And, for the yoga-inclined (or, in this case, reclined), check out Korean master Ilchi Lee’s variation, which adds disco dance floor pointing and recommends that the pose is held for five minutes. In addition to reducing stress and increasing confidence, Lee claims that doing this once a day relaxes over-tense muscles and strengthens the whole body.
So now you know what to do, and not do, in those fraught few minutes before your next big meeting, big pitch or big audition (for all you lovely actors out there). Don’t check out the competition or nervously flick through your smartphone. Go to the loo and reach for the sky.