31 July 2013

Fake it or Make it?

I’m bothered by the idea of ‘fake it till you make it’ – seems insincere, not smart, not sustainable.  But in Lean In Sheryl Sandberg cites research done in 2010, and published in Psychological Science, that says there’s some science behind this strategy.

“One study found that when people assumed a high-power pose (for example, taking up space by spreading their limbs) for just two minutes, their dominance hormone levels (testosterone) went up and their stress hormone levels (cortisol) went down.  As a result, they felt more powerful and in charge and showed a greater tolerance for risk.  A simply change in posture led to a significant change in attitude.”

Sandberg clarifies that she’s not advocating anyone move beyond confidence into the arrogance column, but she does say that “feeling confident – pretending that you feel confident – is necessary to reach for opportunities.”  Reality is, people pick up cues about our confidence levels in our verbal and nonverbal communications.  Power posing – even something as simple as standing tall with our hands on our hips, can result in our feeling more powerful and in charge, and better able to tolerate stress.

In this month’s Harvard Business Review the same authors of the research cited above, Dana Carney, Amy Cuddy and Andy Yap, expand upon the importance of connecting with people before you can truly lead them. The authors provide specific guidelines on how to create connection and project strength, warmth, and confidence through our body language. Two recommendations they offer:

  • when standing to talk with someone, balance your weight on one hip to avoid appearing rigid or tense; tilt your head slightly and keep your hands open and welcoming.
  • when seated to talk with someone, learn inward in a non-aggressive manner to signal interest and engagement; place your hands comfortably on your knees or rest them on the table.

So what power poses do you use?  Remember the best ones are open, expansive, space-occupying (Carney, Cuddy and Yap suggest we think of Wonder Women and Superman standing tall with their hands on their hips and feet spread apart).  I like to channel some senior leaders I know who walk tall, purposefully, but at the same time appear relaxed and not too hurried .  By practicing strong, intentional ‘power postures’ for just two minutes prior to an important encounter, you can increase your confidence level and lower your stress level.  Seems to me there’s no need to fake it, because power postures help you make it.

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