Monday, November 12, 2012

Power Posing

I love quick fixes.  I have nothing against spending the time needed to truly understand the source of problems, working to eliminate the root of the issue once and for all, but sometimes we just need an answer now.  Sometimes we just need to make our present better, while we do the background work.

When working with busy executives it definitely becomes all about the quick fix.  They need something they can act on right now that will help them in their next meeting, presentation or negotiation.  It needs to be effective and it needs to work fast.  The most popular 'quick fix' addresses the need to appear more confident and powerful.

In order to help with this instantaneous transformation, it is important to understand that the body helps shape the mind.  This means that you can drive your thoughts about yourself and how you interpret the world based solely on how you 'move' through life.  Therefore, if we want to shift how you are feeling about yourself and how you appear to others, we shift the way you hold and carry yourself.  You adopt a Power Pose.

Research addressing this very issue* has found that getting participants to adopt a power pose for as little as two minutes made them...

  • more willing to take risks
  • present their ideas with greater enthusiasm and confidence
  • perform better in demanding situations
  • experience an increase in testosterone, a hormone linked to assertiveness
  • experience a decrease in cortisol, a hormone linked to stress
The findings clearly supported the fact that adopting a Power Pose makes you feel more powerful and therefore results in your acting more powerful.  Just two minutes of Preparatory Power Posing, prior to engaging in a task, optimizes the brain to function better during those challenges.

In any Power Pose the main goal is to open your body up to take up more space.  In essence, you want to make yourself look as 'big' as you can.  I remember camping one year at Algonquin Park when my youngest son was maybe about 5.  My husband, son and I were sitting around the campfire one evening when a wolf came walking through the campsite, pausing just on the other side of the fire.  This was not a normal occurrence by any stretch, but what was unnerving was having that wolf pause and stare straight at my young son.  

I followed the wolf's gaze and saw that my son was tucked into a small ball, curled up in his camp chair.  I immediately told him quietly to slowly put his feet on the ground and to extend his arms out toward his father and me... effectively making him appear much larger.  The wolf stood watching closely as my son, in essence, grew larger.  He moved on.  The next morning we learned that the wolf had 'stolen' a small dog from a campsite down the path from us, shortly after leaving our site.  Perceived size and power mattered a great deal that day.

In business you want to recognise that taking up space equates with power as much as it does in the wild.  Powerless people contract their bodies inward, hunching in on themselves, making themselves appear smaller.  Powerful people expand out, opening themselves physically up to the world.

To practice your Power Posing, adopt one of the following power poses...
  1. Stand with an open stance, feet one to one and half shoulder widths apart.  Distribute your weight evenly between your feet so you are centered and firmly planted.  Extend your spine upward so that you are fully erect, your head is up and your eyes are looking directly ahead.  Place your hands on your hips or above your head in a wide 'V' position
  2. In a seated position stretch your legs out fully in front of you, propping them up on a desk or table.  Lean back in your chair and place your hands behind your head, lacing the fingers and angling your elbows out and away from your head.
Consider engaging in a couple of minutes of Preparatory Power Posing just before heading off to your next important meeting to ensure that you enter that room with a heightened level of confidence and power.  How you interact with others during those first opening moments serves to set the tone for what follows.  Let them see your confidence right from the start.  Remember... although you may feel that you are merely 'posing', your brain doesn't know the difference.  If you carry yourself confidently and powerfully, your brain will assume you must BE confident and powerful and will therefore ensure that you FEEL confident and powerful.  Give it a try.  It could just prove to be two of the most effective minutes you've ever spent.

*see work by Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School

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