Straighten Up and Spread Out, Again!

Posted May 30, 2013 by Katherine Toll in Networking Buzz

I recently attended a women’s networking event featuring eight women, each considered experts in their field. Prior to the event kicking off, the women were called to the front of the room and introduced one by one. As the evening’s host read each women’s bio I was struck by the utter discomfort and self-conciouness displayed by each of the evening’s panelist as she listened to the host read off a list of her accomplishments. Every women displayed the same type of body language signaling a ‘just shoot me now’ kind of gloom: arms crossed, legs crossed, lack of eye contact, clenched jaw, etc.

As I observed the women I was reminded of an article I wrote in February called Straighten Up and Spread Out which featured the research findings of Dr. Amy Cuddy, a social scientist at Harvard Business School. Cuddy’s Ted 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.