Before speaking how our body can help us to become a powerful person and how people through their body language show power or the lack of it, we should talk about what body language is, also known as nonverbal communication.
As we have already said, body language or nonverbal behavior is a real form of communication or interaction. We do not communicate only using our voice and words. We communicate with gestures, postures, head or hand movements and even with the whole body. Sometimes non-verbal behavior coincides with what we say, but occasionally what is said and what we are doing with our body conflicts, showing our real feelings and emotions. There are two main kinds of body language: powerful and low power nonverbal expressions. Powerful people tend to be more assertive, more self confident, more optimistic, they think more abstractly and they tend to take more risks when it comes to take decisions. How do powerful people show their power and dominance? They use non verbal expressions connected with the movement of ”opening up”. Powerful people make themselves big, they stretch out, they expand themselves and it seems like they want to fill all the space of the room they are in. People do these kind of opening up movements not only when they actually are powerful, but even when they feel powerful for a moment. As we can see the same non verbal expressions in the animal kingdom, we can conclude that these expressions of power are old and universal. What do we do when we feel powerless? We close up, we wrap ourselves up and we make ourselves small. Low power person can not face powerful people, they do exactly the opposite movements, they close up.
Amy Cuddy, social psychologist and Harvard researcher, interested in power dynamics, has discovered that there are two hormones that play a key role in these powerful and powerless behaviors. Testosterone is the dominance hormone and cortisol is the stress hormone. She has noticed that powerful people have high levels of testosterone and low level of cortisol. On the contrary, powerless people have high levels of cortisol and low level of testosterone. This is something observed in high power alpha males in primates hierarchies, and in powerful and effective leaders. What is really interesting, is that the levels of these two hormones can change even when people force themselves to act in a different way. For instance, when a low power person pretends to be powerful, using dominance and powers poses, his level of testosterone increases while the cortisol decreases. This is the reason why, she gives us some advice to how we can shape our mind using our body. When we have to deal with a stressful or difficult situation, we can take two minutes for ourselves performing power poses. This will raise our testosterone levels and we will actually feel more confident and less stress, being able to face the situation in a more optimistic way.
In conclusion, we communicate with words but with nonverbal expressions too, which can reveal our real feelings and emotions. When we feel powerless, especially before a difficult situation, we can always use ”opening up” poses, which will increase our testosterone level and make us feel more self confident. We can pretend to be powerful every day until we will actually be powerful.
In Amy Cuddy’s words, we can fake it till we become it.