April 03, 2013 Practice Points

Using Body Language to Influence Personal Outcomes

By Catherine Delcin

Small daily decisions to stand with our arms folded or slouch when interacting with others are all telling signs of our assertiveness influencing not only how others see us, but also influencing our confidence to obtain desirable outcomes in a litigation case, negotiation, or job interview. According to Harvard researcher and social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, these outcomes are now linked to our internal beliefs of our own power and dominance. “Your body language shapes who you are” said Cuddy who gave an insightful presentation on Ted.com about the power of our non-verbal expressions to influence our self-perception and third-party perception. Utilizing attribution theories, Cuddy analyzed two issues: whether non-verbal expressions influence how we feel about ourselves; and whether our bodies can change our minds.

As to the former issue, Cuddy noted that nonverbal expressions of power of dominance have origination in the animal kingdom. For example, an expression of pride is typically shown by raising arms up in a V-style with the chin slightly lifted. Alternatively, expressions of powerlessness are depicted by curtailing and shrinking our physical bodies, such as slouching. These expressions of power or powerlessness influence how we feel about ourselves, making it more likely to generate particular outcomes based on internal feelings that we are or are not powerful.

As to the latter issue (i.e., whether our bodies can change our minds), Cuddy noted that there are physiological differences between those who subscribe to power or powerless nonverbal expressions. Power and dominance individuals have been shown to have high testosterone and low cortisol levels. Powerless individuals, on the other hand, tend to have low testosterone and high cortisone levels. Cuddy conducted an experiment where half of the participants performed high power poses and the other half performed low power poses for two minutes. The results revealed that high power posers showed a 20 percent increase in testosterone and 25 percent decrease of cortisol. Low power posers, on the hand were marked by a 10 percent decrease of testosterone and 15 percent increase in cortisol.

Engaging in high power poses has the potential to increase an individual’s power and dominance to exhibit personal traits of assertiveness, confidence, and optimism. “Using a few simple tweaks to body language,” Cuddy explains that the shift from powerless to powerful is relatively simple. Utilizing her custom designed power poses for as little as two minutes can change the role that you subscribe to by virtue of your nonverbal expressions. The good news for those of us who find ourselves in the powerless category is that we can “Fake it till we become it” according to Cuddy.

View Amy Cuddy’s Power Poses presentation.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, body language, power


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