Opinion: Positions of Power - Transparency Week


By Dane Feldman

Photo by Linus Bohman.

The ways in which we present ourselves not only affects how others judge us, but it also impacts how we think and feel about ourselves, according to social psychologist, Amy Cuddy.

Cuddy has done extensive research on body language, or “non-verbals,” and how it can help us become more successful. In her TED talk, Cuddy advises us to try changing our body language for just a couple of minutes. If we are hunching or crossing our arms, she tells us to try and open ourselves up by occupying more space. Using power stances, or “power poses,” while sitting or standing not only makes us feel more powerful, but it also makes others think we are more powerful and confident. She advises us to “fake it until [we] become it.”

What is particularly interesting about Cuddy’s research is that, by trying her “power poses” for only two minutes, we will likely increase our testosterone levels drastically and decrease our cortisol levels. Cuddy explains that those with higher natural testosterone levels are typically associated with having more power and lower cortisol levels are linked with having less stress. She also explains that people who are forced into powerful positions experience a major boost in testosterone and drop in cortisol.

Since watching Cuddy’s TED talk, I’ve noticed changes in my own behavior. When riding the train, I intentionally occupy more space. I drape my arm over the space next to me on the couch, I throw my shoulders back a little more when I walk, and I even find myself doing the Wonder Woman stance.

I do wonder, however, if those around me are noticing? Do my coworkers notice this sudden change? What about the strangers on the train?

What I’ve realized is that, although I’ve recently been made more aware of the impacts of body language, those around me may not have this same knowledge. They may be treating body language the same way I had been just a week ago with a complete lack of awareness and consciousness.

I’m not the only one who has reacted to Cuddy’s work by making changes in my body language, however. In January, Chris Abraham wrote a piece for The Huffington Post in response to Cuddy’s TED Talk, in which he describes his own reaction to her work.

Abraham, a 6’3” man weighing in at 260 pounds, explains that he has been consciously doing the opposite of what Cuddy advises. Abraham was aware long before watching Cuddy’s talk that his stature and Wonder Woman-like stance is intimidating. He consciously began making his body smaller about 10 years ago by crossing his legs and abandoning his natural power stances.

His innate dominance was soon replaced with a more approachable aura and Abraham found that smaller men and women felt more comfortable around him. But what’s most important to note about Abraham’s response to Cuddy’s work is that he now realizes that he may have let this “intentional submission” cause him to be “habitually submissive,” despite his stature. Perhaps Abraham really did fake it until he became it, even though what he became was less powerful, rather than more powerful.

The question is, how likely are those around him to pick up on Abraham’s intentional disarmament? Are those of us, like Abraham and myself who are aware of our body language, too easy to read? Does it say something about us that the impression we want to give on to others is more important than being our natural selves? Is it even obvious that we have ulterior motives? Or is everyone who hasn’t read Cuddy’s research blissfully unaware of the changes going on around them?