Straighten Up and Spread Out

Posted February 5, 2013 by Katherine Toll in Building Your Brand

We have all heard the expression ‘fake it until you make it.’ For many years, I lived my life using this mantra – not so much because I didn’t know what I was doing in a certain situation, but because I did not believe I knew what I was doing in that situation. Hence, the fake-it-till-you-make-it shtick damn near killed me.

For most of my life, I carried around this nagging feeling of ‘being found out’. In my mind, it was just a matter of time before someone (or, everyone) discovered my assorted and plentiful list of flaws. My ‘secrets’ ran the gamut from “I’m not as smart as you think I am,” all the way to “I’m crazy as a loon” and everything else in between.

Self-doubt infiltrated most of my mind, especially as I ascended in my professional career. Five years ago, I became nothing more than a cardboard cutout who waited to be called-out as the impostor I felt like. I lived on adrenaline, diet-Pepsi and Klonapin until I reluctantly changed the error of my ways.

So, I proceeded with a high degree of caution when I tuned into a Ted Talk given by Amy Cuddy, a social science Professor at Harvard Business School who appeared to peddle the ‘fake it’ message. HOWEVER, I found myself absolutely enthralled with her presentation (and her research findings), so I wanted to pass them along.

Cuddy’s talk entitled, “Your body language shapes who you are” demonstrates the power of our posture’s influence on not only how others perceive us, but also on how WE PERCEIVE OURSELVES.

Her research hypothesis asked a simple question,

Our non-verbals govern how others think and feel about us, but do they govern how we think and feel about ourselves?

Her findings point to an emphatic ‘yes!’ especially in what she calls, ‘evaluative situations’. Those nerve-wracking moments we know and love (hate):a job interview, a big presentation, a negotiation, a performance review; any place we feel we are being judged, or evaluated.

Her advice? Strike a pose. Literally – take a type of stance, preferably for two minutes prior to the situation, called a power pose:

  • Stand up with feet hip distance apart and hands on hips – think Wonder Woman
  • Expand and open yourself – take up space
  • Avoid closing up yourself – sitting, with legs crossed and head down reading your iPhone texts

No big surprise here, but Cuddy’s research found we (women) are more likely to wrap-up our body posture, so we take up less space. Ironically, this body posture mimics the pose people take when they feel afraid or threatened. Hence, this posture causes our stress hormones to elevate and we BECOME afraid or threatened. You see the vicious circle our ladylike posture often triggers.

Men, on the other hand take up space; they sprawl and spread out. Think about it – women physically tie themselves up in knots, so our thoughts and feelings respond to the constricted, compact posture. Cuddy adamantly discourages ‘the fake it till you make it’ notion. Instead her research reinforces a more nuanced philosophy:

Fake it until you become it.

Your body’s position in space tells your mind how to behave. Expand and unfold your body to help your thoughts do the same.

About the Author

Katherine Toll

Katherine (Kathi) Toll possesses more than 20 years of management and consulting experience within the retail and beauty industry. Her industry experience combined with her special brand of irreverence fuels her mission to find the ‘must-have’ beauty products for Career Girls of all ages. She aspires to remind women the airbrushed perfection of the beauty industry must be tempered with a healthy dose of humor. Kathi holds a general management certification from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, along with an undergraduate degree from Northwestern’s School of Communications.