Is Your Body Language Holding You Back at Work?

May 16, 2016 Nicole Klemp

body language holding you back

Have you ever been too intimidated to speak up in a meeting, felt self-conscious at a networking event, or were a bundle of nerves during a job interview? Most of us have experienced a lack of self-confidence at one time or another, and some may even feel that way in everyday life. But what if you could create more confidence just by changing your body language… and even feel more powerful? A social psychologist from Harvard studied this very subject, and she believes you can — just by making a few small tweaks.

In her TED Talk, How Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are, social psychologist Amy Cuddy discussed how our body language sends certain messages about us, and how by changing some of our postures and gestures we may be able to change the way those messages are perceived in a positive way.

Stop making yourself small

SmallWhen people are feeling nervous or lacking confidence, they have a tendency to hunch, cross their arms, or just fold into themselves, making them look (and feel) smaller. According to Cuddy, women are even more likely than men to use these “low-power poses,” as women often feel inherently less powerful than men. But by making yourself smaller and taking up less space around you, you’re communicating that lack of confidence to others, which can make managers and colleagues less likely to hear out your ideas or depend on you for important tasks — which could eventually translate into being passed over for promotions.

If you’re job hunting, you could also be hurting your chances of getting the gig when you display this type of body language. Through their research, Cuddy’s team found that hiring managers were more likely to select candidates who displayed more “powerful” body language.

Nail the “high-power poses”

bigYou know that person who comes into the conference room with their head held high, waving at everyone as they enter, and then sits down and props their arm up on the empty chair next to them? That person is displaying high-power body language. According to Cuddy, this is a nonverbal expression of power and dominance. In the wild, when animals want to show dominance, they make themselves bigger by opening up and occupying space. Even smaller animals can be dominant, like when a chihuahua becomes the alpha dog in a home with a boxer and a pit bull. The same is true for humans; it’s not about physically being a bigger person, it’s about having a bigger presence.

By displaying high-power poses at work, people are more likely to see you as a confident and competent person, and as someone who could be a capable leader. This opens up more opportunities for advancement or promotion, and provides you with an edge if you’re interviewing for a new position or looking to make a career change.

Hormonal effects

It’s not just those around us that are influenced by our nonverbal cues. The different types of body language we use actually create chemical changes in our bodies, which can affect the way we feel and act. Cuddy’s team tested the testosterone and cortisol levels of people after spending 2 minutes in a high- or low-power pose. What they found was that individuals in the high-power pose experienced a 20 percent increase in testosterone and a 25 percent decrease in cortisol (you know, that stress hormone that drug commercials say gives us belly fat). After 2 minutes in low-power poses, the test subjects averaged a 10 percent decrease in testosterone and a 15 percent increase in cortisol.

Fake it ‘til you make it

Even if the high-power poses seem outside your body language comfort zone, you will likely experience hormonal changes similar to the ones in the study just by making yourself do them, which can change how you feel about yourself and give you a confidence boost. As Cuddy put it: “Our bodies change our minds.”

When it comes to power, you can “fake it ‘til you make it.” Even if you aren’t feeling so powerful or confident, you can pretend to be — by making yourself bigger, taking up space, and displaying your dominance. The more often you “fake it,” the more confident and assertive you will become, thanks to that surge in testosterone.

According to Cuddy, powerful people tend to be more optimistic, can think more abstractly, and tend to take more risks. All of which can benefit you in your career, and in life in general. So rather than letting a little nervousness or self-consciousness hold you back or mask the great talents and ideas you have inside, try making these small changes to your body language and see what happens.


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