What Power Looks Like

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Posted August 20, 2013 by Katherine Toll in Networking Buzz
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Non-verbal communication fascinates me. One of my favorite pastimes involves watching people (from afar) in conversation while I figure out the plot line of the exchange. Who’s the power player and who’s not? Restaurants and networking events are some of my particular strong suits. Often times, I can swing by my test subjects a bit later to validate my conclusion, so I’ve gathered empirical data on the accuracy of my predictions. I’m pretty damn good at discerning who was in the power position because I know what power looks like.

Years ago I was exposed to three statistics that changed my perspective on power and how we communicate — since then, I pay very close attention to body language and other non-verbals. While we, as a society, rely heavily on our words, they actually only account for a small percentage of how our message is perceived by others.

My magic stats

Our communication is made up of three components: words, voice (e.g., tone, volume), and non-verbal(e.g., body language, eye contact). These components each hold a percentage of how our communication is perceived and whether our message appears congruent, or not. (i.e., Is what we’re saying syncing with what we’re doing?)

The Facts

  • Words = wait for it….7%
  • Voice = 38%
  • Non-verbals = Yep…you guessed it. 55%

That’s insane! 

What this means to you

If you need to convey an authoritative and powerful presence, you MUST gain awareness of not only how you speak, but  also how you sound and how you appear when speaking. Deborah H. Gruenfeld a Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business comments,

You need to be strategic about acting with power. There are two objectives that you have to keep in mind. The first one? You want to show up authoritative, in charge . . . . at the same time you need to show approachable, empathic . . .  and be able to relate to people on a human level.

In other words, it’s a careful balancing act between appearing strong and approachable AT THE SAME TIME. Most women are socialized to err towards appearing approachable, hence we unwittingly leave our strength at the door. Competent, articulate words might show up, but our voices, body language, and other non-verbals betray the message.

So, what does power look like?

Think about it. You know exactly what power looks like. Picture Michelle Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or Melissa Mayer. Professor Gruenfeld tells us power looks like,

  • Your posture appears open, expansive, and relaxed
  • You take up space
  • Your head is still while talking
  • You hold eye contact a little longer than normal while speaking
  • Your voice is full and projected

What diminishes a powerful message?

  • Your posture is closed, tight, or small
  • Lots of fleeting, jerky movements with hands near your face (e.g., hair flipping)
  • Lack of direct eye contact when speaking
  • Tight, high-pitched voice
  • Too much smiling

I know it sounds daunting to hold all this information in your head while you’re simply trying to communicate, but once you master a few new habits you’ll find yourself  in a more powerful place.

Now go take up some space! Your time is now, Career Girls!


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.

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