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Harvard Psychologists Suggest Simple Body-Language Tweaks That Instantly Boost Confidence

Harvard Psychologists Suggest Simple Body-Language Tweaks That Instantly Boost Confidence

What can  – in an instant – elevate your sense of power? The answer isn’t winning the lottery or getting that big promotion. It’s a “power pose” and research suggests it can effectively enhance your confidence.

A power pose is an open, expansive posture used to convey power in animals and humans alike. It’s the iconic pose of Wonder Woman and every Marvel comic book superhero out there. It’s also the pose of an Olympic gold medal winner, arms extended to the sky in a sweeping gesture of celebration.

Power poses represent confidence, security, and dominance. It’s the stance of success. Leaders have it, and the rest of us want it.

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The idea of a power pose was introduced by a group of researchers at Harvard in their 2010 study. They compared what they called “high-power” poses (aka power poses) to “low-power” poses, which are closed-off, contractive positions. Think cowering animals, the kid sitting humbly in the back of the classroom, or that downtrodden employee hunched over his desk.

In the study, the high- and low-power pose groups were told to hold two postures (high- or low-power poses, respectively) for 1-minute each before they completed a gambling task, provided a saliva sample, and answered some questions. Data showed that the power pose mattered. The high-power pose group experienced enhanced feelings of power and increased tolerance for risk, and those in the low-power pose group showed the opposite.

A simple tweak in body positioning, held for only a few minutes, influenced how people perceived themselves and the risks they were willing to take.

The effect of the power pose went beyond subjective feelings, however, all the way down to the biological level. Those in the high-power pose group experienced an elevation in testosterone and a decrease in cortisol. Why is this noteworthy? Because high testosterone and low cortisol are the markers of a powerful and effective leader – dominant and yet calm in the face of stress. Those in the low-power pose group showed the opposite pattern. Not only did they feel less powerful, but their hormone levels indicated lower dominance and higher activity to stress.

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How did a mere change in body position create such a difference? In her 2012 TED talk, one of the authors of the original study, Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy, argued that tweaks in body positioning can send a message to the brain that a person is more capable or powerful than they might assume. In essence, it’s faking it until you make it.

Cuddy also described a subsequent study whereby two groups of people – a high-power pose and low-power pose group – were subjected to a stressful job interview. Again the subjects assumed high-power poses or low-power poses for only a few minutes before the interview. Evaluators who were unaware of which interviewees had performed a high-power versus low-power pose concluded – across the board – that they would hire those in the high power pose group.

In this case, the power pose would have paid off – with a new job.

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Although a subsequent 2015 study didn’t replicate the biological findings, they still reported increased subjective feelings of power in those adopting power poses. And other research on “expansive postures” shows that it can influence different facets of behavior as well as how others respond to us.

Body language reflects not only how you feel about yourself, but also influences how others react to you.

Consider this – how do you respond when you see someone hunched over, arms hugging their midsection, head down? What about when you see a person stand tall, feet apart, chin up. We make immediate judgments of others based on body language and adjust our behavior towards them accordingly.

How do we use this knowledge to enhance our day-to-day life?

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It’s simple. Start your day with a power pose – or perhaps quickly go through a series of two power poses prior to a big meeting, a speaking event or other stressful situation. See if it enhances your confidence. Even if you don’t feel an immediate change, keep doing it as the posing may be influencing you in subtle ways you can’t detect. Over time, you may notice changes not only in your self-confidence but also how others react to you. The more confidence you convey, the more people will respond to you accordingly. And that’ll just help to drive up your confidence and feelings of dominance, sparking change in all facets of your life.

We all suffer from lack of confidence at some point in our lives. The power pose may be one way to not only “fake it till you make it,” but to fake it until you become the confident person you were always meant to be.

Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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