What Does Our Body Language Say To Us About Our Power

We have all heard how nonverbal communication gives as much or more information about what a person is saying verbally. Nonverbal communication provides context and nuances. And…we have heard about how many people limit or stifle their performance due to self-talk and negative beliefs about themselves. The obvious jump is to look at what we might be sending out as a message but what if we took a look at how we send ourselves a message?

Sheryl Sandberg’s message to “lean in” is more than how we present ourselves to others

Think of people with whom you work, network and serve. What postures have you seen them exhibit and how do you respond? By making yourself bigger or smaller, you also send a message to yourself about the level of power you possess.

Granted, Sheryl Sandberg’s message is predominantly for women and it seems her message to “lean in” contains two thoughts. The first thought is that leaning in implies that you are using your bodily strength to push something forward. The second thought is that leaning in moves you closer to the person you are communicating with and building rapport. By putting yourself into action, you send a message to yourself about your efficacy and sense of personal power.

Biological component

Beyond the psychological component of what messages we send ourselves, we can also alter our biochemistry. Amy Cuddy, professor and researcher at Harvard Business School,  in her TED talk, talks about how our body language shapes our identity. Men and women who adopt power poses raised their testosterone levels and reduced their cortisol levels.  Basically, raised testosterone levels are expressed with increased levels of confidence (We touched on this in another KaizenBiz discussion). Lowered cortisol levels are expressed with lowered stress levels. Another thing to keep in mind is that both testosterone and cortisol are sensitive to social cues and triggers. That is why you can feel deflated, literally, when someone harshly criticizes you.

Do our bodies change our minds?

Amy Cuddy talks about a research study she conducted with Dana Carney, assistant professor at University of California – Berkley Haas School of Business in which they had a group use power poses and another group not use power poses before going into an interview. The interview evaluators did not know which group used the power poses but favorably rated them higher than the group who did not use the power poses. In the mind-body connection world, yogis recommend certain positions because they change how one feels and perceives the world and themselves.

Move like a rockstar or a mouse

So, it seems that we could go in a mind→body→mind process (also known as “fake it ’til you make it”) as we communicate with ourselves about how powerful we feel in any given situation. Whether you are watching Mick Jagger, Bono, Paul Meany or the latest up-and-comer on Eurovision, you notice when they are connected with the audience and expressing their personal power. While rockstar-level hubris might not work so well in the workplace, their sense of confidence and capability comes from an open stance. We may even understand that we could be overpowering and put ourselves into a closed stance.

Body language as storyteller

There are stories we tell ourselves in our heads that show up in our body language and reinforce our self-belief, positively or negatively. Sandberg’s concept of “lean in” invites us to examine our body language. Leaning in may be another power pose to cultivate. The way you sit, stand and move tells you about your power.

What does our body language say to us about our own power?

How do you interpret “lean in” and how it affects our own body language and sense of power?

What value does re-programming some of our hardwired responses bring to our perception of dominance?

Are there different power poses for women than men? If so, what are they?

When does “fake it ’til you make it” become belief and reality?

When would you use the poses to power up or power down?

About the author:  Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth and small business coach/trainer, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding in your own backyard or into another country, Ability Success Growth guides established small business owners to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.