We often receive many tips about asserting ourselves, taking risks, networking or having challenging conversations. These behaviors are essential for our success in the workplace. But what contributes to their effectiveness? Scientists say, it’s power – the feeling of confidence, and the ability to influence.

The understanding of power is subjective. Some people derive power from money, some from their designations, and others, from belonging to certain social groups. However, scientists have arrived at one factor that can make anyone feel powerful, and signal it to others. It is our posture. The link between postures and feeling/ acting powerful was demonstrated by Prof. Carney from Columbia University and Prof. Cuddy from Harvard University.

They found that open, expansive postures (widespread limbs and occupying space by spreading out one’s body), increased feelings of power and an appetite for risk. To measure this, the researchers gave participants $2, and asked them to either keep the money or roll a dice and risk losing the $2, for a payout of $4. The odds of winning were 50/50. Participants who had been placed in the expansive posture, reported feeling significantly more confident of winning and ‘in charge’. They were also 45% more likely to roll the dice!

There’s more to this. The open, ‘superhero’ postures also impacted the participants biologically. It increased the production of testosterone, and decreased cortisol levels. This specific combination of hormone levels is known to improve people’s disease resistance, and influence their leadership abilities.

To confirm this further, the researchers invited people who held entry level, low rank jobs, and asked them to hold a powerful posture every day, as frequently as they could. This involved postures like:

  • Standing with feet hip-width apart
  • Sitting up straight and squaring the shoulders
  • Standing with arms wide open, and head tilted up
  • Taking deep breaths while standing with arms on hips
  • Leaning forward in conversations, with hands together

After sustained practice of a month, it was found that these employees, inspite of being at the bottom of the workplace hierarchy, experienced power psychologically. They made better decisions, felt more satisfied with their jobs, expressed themselves with clarity and were received well by others.

Cuddy calls such power posing, the body-mind nudge. This allows you to skip psychological stumbling blocks, like trying to believe you’re confident, when you may not feel that. It relies on the body, which has a more primitive and direct link to the mind, to tell you you’re awesome.

So, the next time you’re making a business pitch, going for an interview or negotiating with your boss, remember to power pose. In the meantime, check out Cuddy’s TED Talk to learn more.

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