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Low status poses- how your posture reveals your level of confidence

Why is it important that you get the first three seconds right when you introduce yourself?

Because that’s all the time it takes for somebody to make up their mind whether they believe you’re confident, competent and trustworthy.

…and that’s purely based on the way someone looks, dresses, shakes your hand and carries themselves.

“Carries themselves?”, you ask, what does that mean?

Let me explain.

In our last article ‘Want to leave a long-lasting impression…every time?’ we talked about the power of preparation, making sure we make an impact and keep our audience engaged every time we walk into a room.

This touched on:

  • The importance of having good posture and body language
  • How to prepare and be consciously aware of the way you sit and stand
  • How to speak with a full voice that conveys confidence and authority
  • How to maintain your perceived energy levels, so you come across in a professional and confident manner.

So, this article specifically focuses on the physical aspect- posture, body language, gestures, touch and non-verbal communication such as facial expressions.

Let’s dive into it.

Depending on the circumstance, or the person you’re speaking to, most people tend to fall into either of the following poses. The low-status pose or high-status pose.

As the name suggests, you might fall into a low-status pose when you’re feeling insecure, self-conscious or uncomfortable. What happens naturally is that you find yourself subconsciously crossing your body and making yourself look smaller. Examples of these include slouching, rounding your shoulders forward, crossing your feet when standing, or hiding your arms behind your back.

Unfortunately, a lot of women in particular fall into low-status poses, the moment they get asked to stand up and speak to a room full of people. Crossing their legs, tilting their heads or hiding their arms behind their back, they start speaking.

Low-status poses can be witnessed by both genders every day in every location- bus stops, pubs, restaurants, bars- and sadly boardrooms, which is where it matters most.

In comparison, high-status poses are larger than life! Mostly used by men, they’re demonstrated best by bouncers at night clubs each Friday night, standing with a wide stance, feet wide apart, chin raised to the air, shoulders broadened and crossing their arms in a defensive way. In this extreme case, it is a deliberate form of intimidation, and as you can imagine, neither of these are appropriate, or useful when hoping to inspire, influence or motivate.

Harvard Business School social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, became well-known for her 2012 experiment on the emotional effects of body language. She proposed that taking expansive postures—legs spread, hands on hips—could “significantly change the way your life unfolds” by increasing confidence and lowering stress.

The tactic, now widely known as “power posing,” propelled Amy into the media spotlight, with tens of millions of views of her TED talk and positive coverage from the likes of the New York Times and Wired.

Although controversial and claimed as false by Berkeley researcher, Dana Carney, Amy concludes that two minutes of power posing prior to an important meeting causes a hormonal change in your body, which triggers your brain to be more assertive, confident and comfortable.

“Our bodies can change our minds, and our minds can change our behaviour, and our behaviour can change our outcomes,” she said.

Whether there’s any hard evidence or not, doesn’t actually matter. With the AFL season kicking off soon, and just having watched numerous matches at The Australian Open, it’s evident there’s a common theme and behaviour in body language whenever humans celebrate or feel sad.

What is the first thing people do when they win? They throw their hands in the air and open up physically.

Think about the last time you felt good about yourself, versus the last time you had a bad day and walked down the street?

When feeling low, you automatically find yourself shutting down, closing yourself off physically, avoiding eye contact with others, versus standing tall and wanting to connect when feeling good about yourself. The clue is right there… when you’re feeling “LOW.”

So, what does this tell us?

Body language shapes how we think and feel, and most importantly, it shapes how others perceive us.

Here are three tips to help you make an impact, be consciously aware of your posture and body language to be seen as confident, competent and trustworthy.

1. Standing or sitting- the same rules apply.

When sitting in a board meeting, how often do you see people slouching in their chairs, arms on the table, looking disengaged? Too often.

When people become disengaged they switch off and lack energy. Imagine trying to get buy in from someone who is not mentally present in the room? It’s impossible.

So, what can you do to lift people’s energy and avoid people becoming disengaged?

Be mindful of the way you sit, even when you’re not speaking. A little tip I always pass on is sitting at the very edge of your chair on your sit bones. This lifts up your spine, supports your posture, and allows you to sit up straight on your chair, effortlessly.

2. Non verbal communication and micro facial expressions

Have you ever stood up in front of a group of people and they’ve just stared at you, expressionless, or eyebrows furrowed, forehead raised? Yes?

And, how did it make you feel?

Non-verbal communication and micro facial expressions are a vital tool in being able to motivate, inspire, support the person who’s speaking …or not. They have the wonderful capacity to comfort and convey support, yet sadly, often they’re also the reason why people get thrown, start to become self conscious, and crumble into the hole of abyss.

I ask you, are you consciously aware of your non-verbal communication, your facial expressions, when you agree or disagree?

Simple facial cues such as nodding your head in an authentic way when you agree with someone comes across as supportive and conveys affirmation in what they are saying.

Equally, if you disagree with someone, please don’t scrunch up your face in a matter of disdain. Ensure you maintain a neutral facial expression in order to encourage a conversation, rather it being seen as an attack and ending in an argument.

3. The handshake

What could be difficult about shaking someone’s hand? After all, you give several of them every day! And yet, surprisingly, there are a lot of (read- too much) bad handshakes being given out on a daily basis.

So, what can you do to ensure you give a great handshake?

A handshake is about two people being present with each other. It is a professional, yet intimate encounter, that allows two individuals to connect and express themselves.

A great handshake is about two people coming towards each other and letting their hands meet in the middle. Don’t crush, or delicately brush the other person’s hand.

A good handshake should be made with:

  • A confident attitude
  • Good posture
  • A warm smile
  • A firm grip (not too limp, and not too strong)
  • Eye contact

Next time you’re preparing for a meeting or a presentation, remember; your body language, facial cues and gestures form an important part as to how others perceive you.

We would like to leave you with a final takeaway from Amy Cuddy:

“It’s not about the content of the speech. It’s about the presence that they’re bringing to the speech.”

Chloé’s takeaway tip:

I have designed this simple to follow mind map that you can print out and utilise as a daily reminder to be consciously aware of your physical presence.

More areas of the map will follow in the articles to come!