Fake It ‘Til You Make It

We all know the look of someone who seems to walk into a room and exude power.  Relying on no more than non-verbal cues, we have a sense of who wields relatively more or less truly powerful influence over those around them and is less easily threatened by their environment.  Those who naturally and visibly carry themselves with a sense of power (as opposed to powerlessness) don’t necessarily ask to be entrusted with power; to some degree, they simply claim it with their body language.  And who wouldn’t want to be able to elevate their influence in this way?

Here is a very easy tip on how you can increase your own power without waiting to be given more power.  (I’m not talking about manipulative power games; I’m talking about the authentic attribute that helps a professional be heard and trusted, helps an athlete perform at their full potential, and helps a leader attract committed followers and take appropriate risks.)

Non-verbal body language can actually be self-fulfilling!  It’s not just an after-the-fact manifestation of existing feelings of power or powerlessness.  Scientific evidence is now emerging to back up the “fake it til you make it” phenomenon that many of us have experienced or witnessed in others.  Recent research shows that simply by holding oneself in open, tall, expansive “power” postures (the kind that project power in front of others), our bodies experience physiological changes that are associated with power, confidence, dominance and risk taking.   If you practice “power poses” for even just a minute or two at a time, you can elevate your body’s level of the dominance hormone testosterone and reduce your level of the stress hormone cortisol.  This combination will in turn yield not just an emotional and cognitive shift in self-perception, but will also lead to behavioral shifts that project real power and cause others to respond accordingly.  Your body position can actually cause your physiological profile to mirror that of a person who already has power (or one who is powerless)!  In short, “fake it til you make it” is an effective, authentic tactic.

So before you walk into a difficult meeting with your boss, or pick up the phone for a dreaded sales call (or fundraising pitch), or deliver a presentation to important stakeholders, practice your own “power posing” in private for a few minutes.  As they say in some sports, “play big” – sit up tall, take up space in all directions, don’t let any part of your body contract, withdraw or hide.  Think about the challenge ahead of you while you maintain your power pose.  In controlled experiments, this power posing ritual consistently led people to adopt the emotional, behavioral and endocrine profile of a truly powerful, highly confident person.  Now it’s your turn to generate some power for yourself.

For more on the scientific evidence on this topic, take a look at this article co-authored by Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy on “Power Posing.”