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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Strike a Power Pose

About five years ago I attended through work one of those seminars that focus on helping women to better fit into the male-dominated work environment and to make up for the deficiencies of being, well, women.  (I know, it's the twenty-first century out there and this is sad.)  The speaker told a ballroom full of women that men and women, not surprisingly, have a different body language.   Men take up space and assume power poses.   Think sitting in a chair, taking up as much physical space as you can:   feet far apart, legs wide open, shoulders back, one arm on the neighboring chair, chin up.  Women tend to try to shrink in space.  We cross our legs or ankles, cross our arms, slouch, and generally try not to look physically overpowering.  Otherwise, we look aggressive.  And being perceived as aggressive at work serves men only.  

Having identified the issue, the speaker then told us that we should try to be more like men, go for the power poses -- stand and sit tall, nothing crossed, don't apologize for taking up your space.   I agreed in principle but still couldn't quite imagine sitting in a chair in that king-of-the-jungle pose, especially when wearing a dress or a skirt.   I think it would look quite odd.  Since that really didn't seem to be a real solution, I put it out of my mind, along with other  similarly helpful advice, such as become an avid football fan just so you can intelligently discuss Sunday night games during Monday morning conference calls to impress all your male colleagues (surely, they will then accept you as one of them).

Fortunately, the real solution is out there.  Turns out you don't need to sit like an alpha male in a meeting, raising eye brows, you just need to strike one of the "power poses" before the meeting, in the privacy of your office or in the office restroom.

In this TED video (now watched almost ten million times), Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist from Harvard Business School, explains that leaders, both male and female, have higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisone (the stress hormone) than average.  Assuming a "wonder woman" pose (stand tall, feet shoulder width apart, hands on hips) for just two minutes will significantly increase testosterone and reduce cortisone, so you can walk into that meeting feeling powerful, strong, confident, and self-assured.  

Moreover, research shows that not only other people judge us by our body language, but we judge ourselves by our own body language.   If you do not feel powerful enough to strike a power pose, strike a power pose and you will feel powerful.  Your body language shapes who you are.  The video talks about compelling experiments using this technique and the simplicity of it is quite brilliant.  (And, honestly, if nothing else, a reduction in stress level is a great result all by itself.)

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