Goodwin Insights November 12, 2019

Unprecedented Conversation: Making Your Body Language Say the Right Thing

Check your body position right now: are you hunched over looking at a screen? Legs twisted into a pretzel? Bouncing your foot up and down? Arms folded? Are you sitting up straight and breathing deeply and easily?

Over time, small adjustments to our posture, breathing and body language can lead to big improvements in our physical and mental health. These tweaks can change how others see us and give us more confidence, according to Dr. Amy Cuddy – best known for her “Power Pose” TED Talk that has attracted more than 54 million views.

Dr. Cuddy was the keynote speaker for a recent Women@Goodwin retreat held at the firm’s Boston office and the latest guest in a series of Unprecedented Conversations Goodwin is hosting around various diversity and inclusion topics. To perform at our best, Dr. Cuddy stressed being present throughout the day.

“Presence is not permanent, it’s not charisma, it’s temporary,” she said. “Being present allows you to be attuned to and able to access and express your authentic best self.”

According to Dr. Cuddy, when people are not present, they tend to execute poorly:

  • Approach with dread, execute with anxiety, leave with regret. You are not present.
  • Approach with composure, execute with confidence, leave with satisfaction. You are present.

Being present also allows us to believe our own story and that what we are saying is true and authentic. “We have to believe in ourselves to get people to invest in us,” Dr. Cuddy said.

Dr. Cuddy has found one of the best places to look for presence is on “Shark Tank,” the reality TV competition where contestants pitch their products with the hope of attracting investors from among the panel of judges. “It’s like a candy shop of weird body language stuff,” she said.

“What you’re looking for is presence, and when people are present, they believe their story. They buy what they’re selling,” Dr. Cuddy said. “If you don’t buy what you’re selling, nobody buys it and you’re done already.”

Still, Dr. Cuddy recognizes that improved posture and body language aren’t enough to overcome persistent and systemic racial and gender discrimination and inequality.

“Please don’t think that I am saying, ‘There’s sexism and you can just get over it if you feel more powerful’,” she said. “What I am saying is there’s sexism, there’s racism, there are other challenges that we’re facing, and feeling more powerful will serve you and probably will help us change those things.”

Dr. Cuddy explained how our brains take cues from our body position. If we consciously adjust our body position, steady and deepen our breathing and stay focused on the present, the results can be significant.

“Your body and your mind are constantly in conversation,” Dr. Cuddy said. “So your mind is telling your body what to do, but your body is also telling your brain what situation you’re in. So I want you to pay attention to this position of expansiveness or contractedness.”

Taking up more space makes a person feel more powerful and signals that power to others.

“Expansiveness across the animal kingdom is linked to power,” she said, displaying pictures of great apes, birds, cats, dogs, snakes, foxes and peacocks each expanding their profile to appear larger and more powerful.

Humans are much the same way: those who feel powerful and confident tend to take up more space.

“When we feel powerful, we expand. When we feel powerless, we shrink,” Dr. Cuddy said. “All of us are able to walk ourselves off the ledge. Get in touch with that primitive part of yourself, expand and allow yourself to become more courageous.”