“Power resides only where men believe it resides… A shadow on the wall yet shadows can kill. And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”
– George R. R. Martin, A Clash of Kings
How do you know somebody possesses power?
What does it look like?
- Frank Underwood rises behind his desk in the oval office.
- John Travolta struts down a New York street.
- Murphy Brown squares her shoulders and stares down the lens.
We recognise that we are in the presence of the self-assured. We assume they are confident and competent. We are instantly willing to bestow a certain amount amount of credibility and respect.
This is the elusive effect of power. When embodied in the physical presence of another human, it is at once beguiling and undeniable. Some people seem to exude confidence. It comes naturally to them. We assume they were born that way.
Have you ever wanted to claim some personal power for yourself? Be seen by others as worthwhile, without having to constantly prove yourself through words and actions.
Some interesting research in the area of body language suggests that you may be able to project confidence and in turn feel more confidence by practicing two minutes of power posing.
The Research – Power Poses
This astounding claim is backed by the research of Dana Cardey, Amy Cuddy and Andy Yap – in a report published by the Association for Psychological Science. The same research was further popularised when Amy Cuddy took to the TED stage and delivered a captivating talk linking the research to her personal journey and her experience in the classroom.
The crux of the research is that power and confidence are not so elusive after all. Powerful leaders tend to share similar hormone levels, specifically elevated testosterone and lowered cortisol. There is a physical presence that tends to correlate with such a role. Powerful individuals “…display power and dominance through expansive non verbal displays, and these power poses are deeply intertwined with the evolutionary selection of what is ‘alpha'”.
Experiments hypothesised what would happen if one were to adopt typical power poses. That is, simply adopt a position of power – regardless of the attitude of the poser. The findings are incredible. Adopting such positions both project power and confidence to others as well as impacting the individual.
What is a power pose?
Expansiveness – taking up more space. Outstretched arms and puffed out chest. Stand like a superhero.
Openness – keeping limbs open – Plant feet apart and stretch arms away from torso. Be undefended.
Participants were asked to adopt a high power pose or a low power pose (closed limbs, small stance). After two minutes samples were collected.
A physiological shift occurs. Testosterone rises and cortisol falls. In addition, high power posers were more likely to focus on rewards. 86% took a gambling risk, whilst only 60% of the low power poses took the risk.
“Thus, a simple 2-minute power-pose manipulation was enough to significantly alter the physiological, psychological and feeling states of our participants.” According to this study.
The outcome? We actually feel more powerful.
In turn this means we are more powerful.
Jump start your mojo
Identify the situations that make you feel exposed.
- A presentation
- Job interview
- Performance review
- Networking function
- Panel discussion
- Video recording
Observe your natural physical reaction. What is your stance? Are you hunched over with your arms crossed.
Make a simple physical shift for two minutes. Make yourself expansive and open (find your inner super hero) Observe the shift. Is there a change in your breathing, then your voice, then your attitude?
Does it work?
The research findings are compelling. And you will most certainly feel more confident and clear headed. This may be reinforced by the simple practice of breaking your thought patterns of nervousness and worry.
But the non verbal aspect is not enough to convey real credibility over any length of time. You will also need purpose, logic, structure and relatability – but those are subjects for another day.
Almost certainly the practice cannot hurt, so it’s worth a try.
Enjoy the TED Talk that has skyrocketed to one of the most popular ever recorded.