The power of body language
Only a small percentage of communication involves actual words: seven percent to be exact. The rest, 38 percent, is vocal (pitch, speed, volume, tone of voice) and visual (55 percent is body language and eye contact). In other words, the way we physically present ourselves in everyday interactions, more than any other factor, influences how others see us.
But that’s by no means the whole story. According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy who’s presenting here, our body language or “nonverbals” can also change how we see ourselves. Specifically what she calls ‘power posing’, that is standing in a posture of confidence, even when we’re feeling diminished, can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even impact on our chances for success.
Power posing consists of those nonverbal expressions of power and dominance that Cuddy says are “about expanding. So you make yourself big, you stretch out, you take up space, you’re basically opening up.” Conversely, when we’re feeling powerless, we contract and make ourselves small. Moreover we tend to complement the nonverbals of the person we’re with. So, for example, if we’re with someone powerful we tend to make ourselves shrink.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Cuddy says we can overcome our feeling of lack even if doing so means we have to fake it till we make it. “It’s possible that when you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful.” Powerful here is defined as being more assertive, more confident, more optimistic, more likely to take risks and more able to think abstractly.
Cuddy further adds that at the same time we can alter our physiology, in particular how much testosterone (the dominance hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone) we have. Not surprisingly, “powerful and effective leaders have high testosterone and low cortisol,” which is ideal because “you want the person who’s powerful and dominant, but not very stress reactive,” says Cuddy.
Indeed, all this has been borne out in lab experiments with subjects who briefly adopt either high or low-power poses, and among other things are given an opportunity to gamble in order to provide measurements of risk tolerance. According to Cuddy, “what we find is that when you’re in the higher-power pose position, 86 percent of you will gamble. When you’re in the low-power pose condition, only 60 percent.”
In addition, the high-power people experience about a 20 percent increase in their testosterone level, and a 25 percent decrease in their cortisol level; the low-power people a 10 percent decrease and 15 percent increase in theirs.
“So it seems that our nonverbals do govern how we think and feel about ourselves. Also our bodies change our minds.” Given our minds can change our behaviour, and our behaviour can change our outcomes, Cuddy’s not wrong when she says the implications of these findings are far reaching.