We’ve all heard about the importance of body language, and how people make judgments about each other within two seconds of meeting.
Before an interview, or a big presentation, this knowledge can translate to a lot of last-minute primping: Are any buttons undone? Is my hair frizzing? Do I have salad in my teeth? Are there any facts I should go over again?
Well, it turns out that we’re going about our preparations in the wrong way. According to recent research from Harvard and Columbia, the secret to doing well isn’t in a perfectly formatted résumé or well-rehearsed responses: It’s all about posing.
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You heard us right. Posing—literally, holding our bodies in certain ways—has serious effects on our confidence, charisma and the way people react to us. Find out exactly what the study revealed and the two-minute power poses you should be doing to succeed (no yoga mats necessary).
The Reason Behind the Study
Social psychologist and assistant professor at Harvard Business School Amy Cuddy realized that men in the MBA program were getting better grades than their female peers, even though the women were just as qualified. She noticed that men were contributing more in classes, and since class participation makes up 50% of the grading, she wondered why the women would be so reticent.
What She Observed
Cuddy found that the men in the class were taking up a lot of physical space, often spreading their legs wide apart when seated or holding their arms behind their heads. The women, in contrast, would make themselves as small as physically possible: holding their wrists with their hands, crossing their arms and their legs, and touching their faces and necks with their hands.
The men’s physical behavior mimicked the “power postures” taken by dominant animals in other species, like alpha male primates pushing out their chests or peacocks spreading their feathers. In primates, these power postures signal high levels of testosterone (linked to confidence, dominance and aggressiveness) and low levels of cortisol (linked to stress). This balance of hormones is found in people who are perceived as "natural leaders."
Cuddy knew well that physical actions can have real effects on our emotions. One classic study showed that when people held smiles on their faces, they actually started to feel happier (giving new meaning to “fake it till you make it”). As a result, she wondered: Could holding power postures actually increase testosterone levels and lower cortisol?
A Closer Look at the Study
Cuddy and her fellow researchers divided a group of 42 participants into a high-power posture group and a low-power posture group. The participants gave saliva samples to measure their base levels of testosterone and cortisol; then, the groups were manipulated into different postures.
The high-power group spent one minute with their feet up on a desk with their hands behind their heads, and then another minute standing and resting their hands on the desk. The low-power group sat for a minute in chairs with their arms held close together and hands folded, and then a minute standing with arms and legs crossed.
After these poses were done, both groups of participants were given $2 and asked to roll a die for a 50/50 chance to double their $2 to $4. Additionally, they gave a second round of saliva samples to test changes in their hormone levels.
86% of the high-power group decided to roll the die as opposed to 60% of the low-power group (increased risk tolerance is a sign of power and confidence). And more importantly, the high-power poses increased testosterone by 19% for both men and women and decreased cortisol by 25%, while the low-power poses decreased testosterone by 10% and increased cortisol by 17%.
Cuddy’s intuition was correct. The simple act of holding a power posture could actually make a person more confident, calmer and in control.
What This Means for You
You don’t have to be in a power posture during an actual interview or presentation in order to reap the effects. (Sitting with legs spread apart while wearing a pencil skirts definitely sends a nonverbal cue … but it isn’t “Hire me.”) Cuddy found that the beneficial effects of power posing last for at least 15-30 minutes after the pose is finished.
Here’s how to harness the power of posing:
Before an Interview or Presentation
A couple of minutes before you need to bring your A-game, go into a bathroom to start posing. In a stall, stand with your legs spread apart and reach your arms above your head. Think expansive. Hold for at least two minutes.
If you’re in your own office, hold the classic pose mentioned earlier: Feet up on desk, hands behind head. Alternately, you can do the “Wonder Woman”: feet apart, hands on hips. Once again, two minutes should do the trick.
During the Interview or Presentation
Don’t negate the positive effects of power posing by closing yourself off once you're in an interview or giving a presentation. If you’re sitting, square your shoulders and keep your arms on the armrest to avoid crossing your arms or folding your hands in your lap. Don’t touch your face, your hair or your neck, which are classic signs of powerlessness, says Cuddy.
If you’re standing up, take up more space by leaning one hand on a whiteboard ledge or resting your hands on a table.