April 5, 2016

TED Talk in Two Minutes: your body language shapes who you are

We know you love TED talks, but don’t always have the time. So you don’t miss out, here’s our snackable summary. Your body language shapes who you are by Amy Cuddy.

Body language comes first

Amy is a celebrated social psychologist, Harvard professor and body language expert. She believes nonverbal communication impacts the way we see and judge each other and impacts things like who we hire or promote.

Dominance

One of the key things body language communicates is dominance. In the animal kingdom, power is conveyed through expanding, becoming bigger…think of a gorilla standing tall, beating its chest. And humans do the same thing (well, almost the same thing). Those in power tend to stand taller, their posture is straight with shoulders back. When we feel powerless we do exactly the opposite; our shoulders slump and we look towards the floor. We make ourselves smaller.

We complement each other

When interacting with another person, we naturally complement the other person’s nonverbal communication. So if the other person is being really powerful and big, you will tend to make yourself smaller. We don’t mirror them. We do the opposite of them.

The science bit

Amy’s research found that powerful people were more confident and calm in stressful situations because they had higher levels of a “dominance” hormone (testosterone) and lower levels of a “stress” hormone (cortisol) in their brains than others people. She conducted an experiment to discover whether changing body language could alter the levels of these hormones and change not just our behavior, but the way we feel. Participants were asked to adopt high-power or low power poses for two minutes and then asked how powerful they felt and supply a saliva sample.

Pose for power (in just two minutes)

She found that adopting a power pose for two minutes altered the levels of these hormones in our brains significantly, and impacted behavior as a result.

But the question on the tip of your tongue is, can power posing work in real life? When this was tested in a stressful job interview setting, each participant who practised the high power pose were seen as successful candidates by assessors, regardless of the qualifications or experience of participants who practised a low power pose. They had more presence and confidence than the other candidates.

Two-minute tweaks = big changes

The key message from Amy Cuddy, is that tiny tweaks in body language can lead to big changes. So before you go into the next stressful situation (e.g. a pitch meeting), find a private space, take two minutes to get into a power pose for two minutes and to reconfigure your brain.  You’ll get your testosterone up and get your cortisol down. Don’t leave that situation feeling like, oh, I didn’t show them who I am. Leave that situation feeling like, I really feel like I got to say who I am and show who I am.

…Go get ‘em tiger!

Summary by Martin Douglas Hendry

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