We know that nonverbal communication affects the way that other people perceive us, but social psychologist Amy Cuddy says that body language can also affect how we see ourselves.
Nonverbal communication affects almost every aspect of our lives and often determines the people that we elect to public office, the grades that we receive in school and even our likelihood of suing doctors after incidents of malpractice.
In many cases, we are completely unaware of the ways that nonverbal communication affects our interactions. We also rarely recognize the effect of our own body language on our moods and self perceptions.
People that slouch, cross their legs and make themselves appear smaller have different brain chemistry than powerful individuals and seem more likely to see themselves in lower roles. These “smaller” people feel less powerful and are more pessimistic.
Cuddy says that the “fake it til you make it” approach can improve brain chemistry and give individuals a sense of power that translates into better interactions.
Cuddy ran a study to see how high power poses affect self perception and hormones. People who held high power poses for two minutes showed a higher risk tolerance, 20 percent higher testosterone and a 25 percent decrease in cortisol, a hormone that is released in response to stress. Meanwhile, people who held low power poses showed 10 percent lower cholesterol, lower risk tolerance and a dramatic increase in cortisol levels.
People with “positive” or “powerful” nonverbal cues were more assertive and comfortable, and Cuddy says that there’s a clear conclusion to draw from this study. Nonverbal cues govern how we feel about ourselves and our bodies can change our minds.
Cuddy recommends spending a few minutes to adopt powerful poses before high-stress situations. Putting your hands on your hips in a dominant stance or sitting with your back straight and your legs uncrossed can prepare your brain, providing more confidence and better interactions with job interviewers, co-workers, family members and others.
“When we think about communication, we think about interactions,” Cuddy says. “We make sweeping judgments and inferences from body language…if you learn to tweak (your body language) a little bit, it could significantly change how your life unfolds.”