Sometimes I go into the bathroom, close (and lock) the door, raise my hands over my head, spread them out, and do the same thing with my legs. I essentially look like an upright starfish (and that’s not doing justice to the poor starfish).
We communicate with nonverbal language. Our nonverbals govern how others think and feel about ourselves. It can be the difference between a doctor getting sued or not. If the patient thought he was nice, he is less likely to get sued.
Nonverbal expressions of power and dominance including making yourself big, are similar across species in the animal kingdom, not just primates, and humans do the same thing. Oppositely, what do we do when we feel powerless? We wrap up and make ourselves small. We don’t want to bump into the person next to us.
What happens when you combine the two? Instead of each human mirroring the nonverbal expressions of the person in front of them, each nonverbal is complemented by the other. If someone is expressing power, the other will express concession. Women are more likely to give in than show power. Women feel chronically less powerful than men (although you wouldn't know it from the pictures below...Come on girls!).
Our nonverbals not only affect those around us, but they also affect ourselves. Its the “fake it till you make it” put into action. So I stand like a starfish in the bathroom before going into a business meeting in order to give myself confidence, and come out on top. How does that actually happen? There are different hormone levels going on inside the minds of the powerful versus the non-powerful. High power people have high testosterone and low cortisol levels, the stress hormone. This means you will get a person who is dominant and powerful, but not highly stress reactive. We interestingly see that if someone is put into this position of power quickly (get promoted to manager), their testosterone levels raise substantially and their cortisol levels go down. You don’t want a leader who is highly dominant, yet also highly susceptible to fits of stressful rage.
Amy Cuddy, social psychologist, had people in the lab stand in either high power poses or low power poses for two minutes. Before they begin, they take a saliva test. After, they are asked how powerful they feel in certain situations, followed by a gambling session, and lastly another saliva test. They found that those who had held a high-power pose gambled 86% of the time compared to 60% of the low-power pose people. From their testosterone baseline when they came in, high-power people experienced a 20% increase in hormone levels and low-powered people experienced a 10% drop in testosterone. On cortisol you saw a 25% decrease for those standing in the high-power pose, and a 15% increase for the others. These two minutes managed to change those people into either assertive, confident and comfortable people, or really stress-reactive and slightly insecure. Our bodies can change our minds.
I stated before fake it till you make it. But in this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy she teaches us that we can go farther than that. We can do it enough until we become it and internalize it. So if we are standing in that bathroom for two minutes before every interview, we will become that alpha persona. And if we start taking control at board meetings, eventually we won't think twice about it. We can become that person, whoever it is that we may want to be, by changing what we do with our bodies. Our bodies affect our minds.