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Dispatches from PLA 2014: Big Ideas with Amy Cuddy

by on March 25, 2014

One of the high points of PLA 2014 was definitely the daily “Big Ideas” sessions, which took place every morning and provided great fodder for thought and discussion throughout the day. Although each of these was fantastic in many ways, my favorite was Amy Cuddy’s talk on power posing.

What is power posing? Cuddy defined it as a body language technique that leads to feelings of confidence and empowerment. Certain poses, such as the classic “Wonder Woman” (placing your feet far apart with your hands on your hips while standing up straight), create physiological changes that make you feel better about yourself. Many people fall into these positions subconsciously; take, for example, the classic victory pose of raising both arms over your head in a V-shape. These types of positions are associated with positive feelings. Meanwhile, closing yourself off by slumping with your hands in your pockets or covering your face gives off the feeling that you are intimidated or seeking protection.

How can these ideas help us in our daily lives? Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor, presented evidence in her talk that holding a power pose for two to three minutes prior to an important meeting or interview can boost self-esteem and give us a better shot at success. Also, it is important to be aware of our body language during such events; appearing closed-off can make us seem weak or hostile, while spreading ourselves out too far can appear predatory.

To better illustrate her argument, Cuddy offered several anecdotes from popular culture, including footage of Olympic medalists using the victory pose, as well as Al Gore’s “intimidating” body language during the 2000 presidential debates. Finally, she showed that these trends are true even in the animal kingdom, relaying the story of a show pony whose posture was modified, making him much more confident and successful in competitions. Having an understanding of the basic biology and principles behind posing and body language can help us get a better handle on tough work situations.

Have you ever tried power posing before a job interview or board meeting? Share your results in the comments!

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