This post originally appeared on the Crew blog.
When you read the title of this post, you likely sat up a bit taller or pulled your shoulders back just a bit.
As much as we tend to ignore posture during our normal day, the idea of perfect posture is ingrained in our heads since childhood. It turns out our parents may have been doing more than just instilling proper manners.
Posture has a great deal to do with how others perceive you in business situations. It can help convey confidence or portray weakness. Your posture can help you boost your income, ace that presentation, and, yes, even score your dream date. Let’s look at how you can use it to your advantage.
Posture and how it affects confidence
Imagine you’re sitting in a job interview. You’ve made your way through the opening pleasantries. Then, the real questions kick in. You’re asked to list your positive and negative attributes as they relate to your potential success in the new role. Following advice you’ve heard thousands of times, you’re sitting up straight and pulling your shoulders back. What kind of effect will that have on your answers? Quite a large one in fact.
The interview described above is the exact situation that subjects experienced in a 2009 study on posture and self-evaluation. The results indicated that sitting up straight and pulling your shoulders back (a confident posture) increases your self-attitude. In short, participants believed in themselves more when exhibiting a confident posture. The benefits aren’t just mental either.
Posture plays a role at the hormonal level as well. A study published in 2010 demonstrated that high-power positions elicit an increase in testosterone (a confidence-boosting hormone) and a drop in cortisol (a stress-related hormone).
The effects of posture extend beyond the interviewee as well. As Amy Cuddy explains in her TED Talk “Your body language shapes who you are”:
We make sweeping judgements and inferences based on body language, and those judgements can have really meaningful life outcomes like who we hire or promote or who we ask out on a date.
In short, your posture can actually influence how others perceive you. (Bet you aren’t slouching now!)
Using power postures to your advantage
We’ve established that sitting up straight with your shoulders pulled back is an example of a power posture, one that increases your self-confidence and provides a beneficial boost of powerful hormones. But, there are other characteristics as well.
In general, a power posture is one that leaves you looking and feeling like you’re taller/bigger than others in the room. Sitting up taller rather than slouching forward adds a few inches to your height. Similarly, spreading your arms out wide (like draping them over the back of a chair) leaves you taking up a larger chunk of real estate (and thus appearing more dominant) than sitting with your arms crossed against your chest. Leaning forward is another common body position of those that are taking control of the space around them and thus taking charge.
In contrast, low power postures involve shrinking yourself and seeming smaller like slouching in a chair or crossing your arms. The former leaves you feeling smaller and the latter looks like a protection mechanism.
If you’re thinking that low power postures are few and far between, think back to your posture before your last meeting or conference call. Chances are you had your phone out, head pointed down, and shoulders slumped forward checking email, right?
Low power postures are all too common, especially with the increased use of technology. The next time you’re sitting at your computer, take a quick posture survey. More than likely, you aren’t sitting up straight with your shoulders back.
If high power postures are beneficial, the natural solution must be to walk around like a proud peacock emphatically puffing our chests out and holding our heads high all of the time? That will likely score you some odd looks walking down the street. The good news is that research indicates the changes in posture don’t need to be that drastic to achieve the positive effects.
Cuddy’s research indicates holding a power posture for as little as two minutes can produce beneficial effects both on your self-confidence levels and your hormones. The effects on your self-esteem will extend beyond that short segment into the stressful situation. Cuddy explains that with more and more practice, the increased self-confidence becomes an ingrained character trait.
Here’s your game plan
Whether it’s the bathroom stall prior to heading into a stressful evaluation or the elevator on the way to the presentation of your life, mimic a power posture for just two minutes. Try puffing up your chest and holding your head high with your arms at your sides or leaning forward and resting your hands on the counter while staring confidently into the mirror. It should look something like this:
It may feel a bit ridiculous, and you may get a few weird looks from others coming in. But, even if you’re immensely nervous about the upcoming event, these two minutes can help instill self-confidence. In the case of posture, you can effectively “Fake it till you make it” or as Cuddy prefers “Fake it till you become it” emphasizing that practicing power postures can leave lasting changes on confidence levels and lead to more success down the road.
Proper posture is normally emphasized during childhood, ignored during high school, and forgotten during college and beyond. In fact, even as I write this, I’m slouching in my chair apparently too lazy to sit-up straight. Remember, all it takes is two minutes of practice before your next stressful situation. For just two minutes, mimic the postures mentioned above to elevate your self-confidence and improve your life.
If you want more, I would highly encourage you to check out Amy Cuddy’s entire TED Talk: