Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard, has done a series of studies that shows that your body language can change how you feel about yourself and that can change how you act. Most of us think about this relationship the other way around: that how we think and feel affects our body language. Turns out that Cuddy’s research shows that the relationship also goes the other way and that fact can be a key to feeling more confident in stressful, evaluative situations.
Cuddy started by identifying some common body language for being powerful and competent (e.g., lifting your chin and holding your arms up in a “V” for victory, sitting with your hands clasped behind your head and your feet crossed on a table, or standing with your feet apart and your hands on your hips in a “wonder woman” pose). Next Cuddy asked people to take those positions for a couple of minutes and then measured the hormone levels that are correlated with assertiveness and confidence. She also measured the levels for people who were asked to take low-power positions for two minutes. What she found was that just two minutes produced statistically significant hormonal differences between these two groups.
So, the next question was could these changes really affect someone’s life, not just their hormone levels? To get at this question, Cuddy and her associates did a series of studies actually putting people in stressful evaluative situations (specifically a job interview) after they spent two minutes in either high or low power positions. This was a “blind” study with no one involved in the study knowing who was asked to take the high or low power positions. After the interviews, the researchers asked the interviewers how they evaluated the individuals. The people who had assumed high power positions before the interviews were perceived as more passionate, enthusiastic, comfortable, confident, captivating and authentic than the low-power people. The content of what those being interviewed said was not different but the researchers concluded that those who spent two minutes in hi-power positions brought more of their authentic selves to the interaction with less worry/concern for the situation.
So, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, putting yourself in a hi-power position for a couple of minutes before a high-stress, evaluative situation, can lead to more positive perceptions of you. Cuddy’s message? “Fake it until you are it!” The next time you will be in a stressful, evaluative situation – a job interview, a difficult presentation, or a high-stress conversation – try it out. Before the interaction, find a private space (e.g., the stair well or a bathroom stall) and try one of the power poses for two minutes. See if that exercise makes you feel and act more confidently.