Spending two minutes imagining that you are a starfish could be the answer to your social fears.
It sounds strange, but some laboratory studies indicate that adopting the so-called «power attitude» could make the difference between success or failure in the workplace.
If you’re worried about an upcoming job interview or a stressful encounter at the office, mastering the art of controlling your body language, or «nonverbal cues,» could do the trick.
«People have a lot of control over their ability to rise to the occasion and demonstrate their best selves or their ambitious nature,» says Amy Cuddy, an associate professor at Harvard Business School and author of «Make Yourself Big : How the Body Shapes the Mind» («Get big: how the body shapes the mind»).
Human beings are biologically wired to reflect our moods on our outward appearance, Cuddy says.
The specialist affirms that we can change the impression we cause if we «think big», shortly before an important interview or meeting.
It’s all in our chemistry
Laboratory experiments indicate that body biochemistry can be manipulated to create a greater sense of confidence and control, simply by changing our posture.
In one study, researchers randomly assigned people to assume a «high power» attitude, such as raising their hands, or a «low power» attitude, such as slouching and crossing their arms.
After providing a saliva sample to measure their basal hormone levels, the subjects remained in a room for two minutes in either their high or low power stance.
They then underwent behavioral tests.
In one of them they received a little extra money and were given the challenge to play.
Those who adopted the power attitude were the most likely to gamble.
Subsequent saliva tests showed that power poses caused testosterone levels to rise by 20% and cortisol levels to drop by 25%.
Testosterone is associated with confidence and cortisol is linked to stress. Low power stances had the opposite effect, lowering testosterone by 10% and increasing cortisol by 15%.
«To a large extent, this is about being present in the moment,» Cuddy said. «It’s quite simple and useful if you have a body and some privacy.»
Without in front of the boss
The key, Cuddy says, is to get into the attitude before you get into a situation where you need to make an impact.
Avoid puffing out your chest or making big gesticulations with your arms in front of your boss.
Science indicates that investing just a little time in adopting an attitude of power could have a noticeable and positive effect on dominance and status.
Additionally, anecdotal evidence indicates that this behavior might help alleviate depression.
Some people have pointed out that when they take a power attitude they can’t hold on to negative feelings.
In a surprising twist, Cuddy also believes that the same principles apply in the digital world and could affect people who work remotely.
For example, assuming the persona of a tall avatar could give someone the upper hand in a debate or negotiation or online, she says.
More research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms linking body posture to body biochemistry and human interaction.
But adopting an attitude of power could be the first step to taking control in a workplace where the body plays a significant role.