As human beings we are social beings, and social interaction and communication is a huge part of our existence. Have you ever heard that most of our communication is nonverbal? The exact percentage differs depending on the source, however the fact that most communication is not what we say, it’s how we say it is clearly supported by the research. Nonverbal communication refers to facial expressions, gestures, posture, and sometimes vocal elements such as tone and pitch.
Do you notice the body language of others when communicating with them, trying to understand what they really mean? For example, have you ever thought someone was lying to you because they were looking away or looked up and to the left (or to the right, whatever it is, I’m sorry to tell you it’s a myth anyway! If you want more info on this here’s a great article on the truth about body language). Have you noticed someone’s crossed arms when giving them feedback and assumed they were feeling defensive? Or have you noticed how uncomfortable you feel when your audience is giving you a blank face that you can’t read? Or people whose ‘default face’ looks like they hate you?
What about your own body language and the impact that has on how others perceive you? Have you ever mirrored the body language of the person you’re speaking with (this helps us to create a connection and empathise with them), either consciously or unconsciously? Found yourself very aware of making sure you have open body language (eg. no arms or legs crossed), made a deliberate attempt to maintain eye contact, or demonstrated positive body language such as nodding and smiling to indicate that you are paying attention? All with the aim of making the other person feel they are being listened to and that you care about what they are saying?
I’m sure some of these scenarios (if not a lot of them!) are sounding familiar. But have you ever thought about how your body language makes you feel, and what impact your body language has on your behaviour? Research has demonstrated that our own body language can have an impact on our mind, and therefore on our behaviour. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy has given a great TED talk on this very subject, and looked at the impact of power poses vs. powerless poses on people’s behaviour. What she found was that when people took on a power pose for just 2 minutes prior to an event (see picture below), they were more confident and assertive.
A power pose involves making yourself physically bigger, such as extending the arms up in a V shape, putting your hands on your hips (also known as the Wonder Woman), putting your hands behind your head or uncrossing your legs. Those that took on a low power pose (see picture below) ended up being more stressed.
Low power poses are when we make ourselves physically smaller, including crossing your legs, hunching over, crossing your arms, and the foetal position if you’re having a really bad day. If we think about the impact of this in the workplace, this could have a great influence in situations where you are being evaluated by others, such as job interviews, presentations, meetings and so on where you need to come across as confident. Just 2 minutes in a power pose in the bathroom or elevator prior to the meeting could make all the difference (just don’t do the power pose during the meeting, that doesn’t seem to work out so well…).
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