What's Stopping You From Looking Powerful? Hint: It's Not Your Clothes

We believe clothes DO make the man. Not only that, but one of the sharpest wits in the world agrees with us. “Clothes make the man,” said Mark Twain. He added “naked people have little or no influence.”

Still, even a bunch of threads heads like us know that clothes aren’t the only way to project power and confidence. There’s more.

Sure, we could all use a few extra sessions at the gym to help us get the kind of chiseled, Adonis-like looks that you see on Black Lapel models. Especially a glen plaid suit. (Note: that’s the author of this article). But even six-pack abs and rugged good looks (okay, I’m embellishing a little) don’t have the power that something as simple as standing up straight has.

That’s right body language, non-verbal communication if you want to get all clinical, has more power over how we are perceived than anything else we do.

How do we know this? Amy Cuddy, the Harvard professor who studies this stuff, wrote a whole book about body language. If you’re like us and your stack of books on the “to read” list is way too big, never fear, you can watch her TED talk where she points out that people are “really fascinated with body language, and we’re particularly interested in other people’s body language.” She goes on to assert that “we make sweeping judgments and inferences from body language. And those judgements can predict really meaningful life outcomes like who we hire or promote, who we ask out on a date.”

Hold up, ask out on a date? Doesn’t that have to do more with how much you like someone’s body rather than how much you like their body language? Turns out there’s a lot more to how we judge people’s looks than just their looks.

pull quote


And here’s where Cuddy gets all Bradley Cooper in Limitless on your ass…your body language doesn’t just inform others about you, it informs you about you.

Say whaaaaat? Yup, that’s right. How you stand, sit, lean or walk can literally change your brain. Studies show that just two minutes of what Cuddy calls power posing, can lead to increases in testosterone that can help you be feel stronger and be more effective at getting your points across.

Of course, overdoing it on the testosterone can lead to bad things. Just ask every wayward jock from Floyd Landis to Alex Rodriguez. If your testosterone goes up and your cortisol, the stress hormone, stays level or goes up, you can become cantankerous, agitated and basically a prick (you know, like Floyd Landis or Alex Rodriguez).

But the same experiment that showed an increase in testosterone saw people’s cortisol go down after two minutes of power posing. In other words, people who use high power body language are telling their brains to feel more dominant and feel more confident in their dominance. And their brains listen. They have fewer fears, are willing to risk more and are generally more self-assured.

Want in? Here are three great ways to put body language to work for you.

The Job Interview

Want to stress out and feel powerless? Sit in a room with someone who’s going to judge you and potentially decide on your quality of life for the foreseeable future. Here’s the gameplan.

Show up early enough to have some time before the interview starts. Check in at the door and ask to use the bathroom. In the private, give yourself a couple of minutes of victory poses. You know, hands up, arms stretched out, like you’re crossing the finish line in first at the Olympics.

Don’t worry about it feeling awkward at first. It is awkward. But fake it ‘til you make it. Your brain will follow your body, so give yourself a booster shot of encouragement and you’ll be ready to confidently walk into the interview room and put your best foot forward.

The Big Meeting

Got a presentation to give? A tough negotiation? Your annual review? These can be stress-inducing situations. While some people go into them with a cavalier attitude, the majority of us freak the hell out when we feel like we’ve got to be put on the spot and we’ve got to deliver.

This will help. As with the job interview, a couple of power poses can work wonders. But with big meetings during the workday, you have the home field advantage. Just a few little adjustments to how you carry yourself at your desk and in the meeting can pay off big time. Your body language can be subtler than the victory poses we showed above.

Sitting back and putting your hands behind your head can have a similar effect, boosting your powerful feelings. Sitting at your desk with your hands behind your head, elbows wide, and your chest out, you start to feel like a lord surveying your domain rather than a serf, toiling away at your computer screen. Spreading out in a relaxed posture signals that you’re not afraid of anything. Even if, inside, you’re terrified, your brain responds to your body language and the fear subsides.

The First Date

We’ve been giving examples of work related situations where your body language can help you power through, but this stuff works off the clock as well.

When asked for dating body language advice recently, Cuddy gave a personal example. She told the story of a first date like none other. She was meeting a guy she’d been talking to online in Paris (so yeah, he had the romance thing covered from the jump). The average dude would have suggested dinner, but hunkering down at a dimly lit restaurant, hunched over a table can may you feel pretty small and kill your confidence. This guy suggested that they go for a walk. Being upright he felt free to open up, spread his arms as he gestured and generally be big and powerful. She too felt empowered as they walked and they hit it off.

The date turned out to be an amazing and memorable experience. Oh, and by the way, she married that dude. So, yeah, that was a pretty strong first impression he made. It’s summertime, put this one into practice while the weather is nice and don’t be surprised if you get better results than ever before.

Start Speaking Body Language

So we’ve been dropping a lot of knowledge on you. And we’re happy to do it. But we do have one request of you. Now that you’ve been schooled on the hidden powers of body language it’s time to put it to use. Leave us a comment with your results. Let’s get interactive in this piece.