An easy way to feel powerful at work

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You know how people say that the simple act of smiling when you’re in a bad mood can make you feel better? Well, apparently there’s a similar theory that can be applied to success at work.

According to Fins.com, a recent study conducted by researchers from Columbia and Harvard universities found that our body language has a lot to do with how powerful and in control of a situation we feel, both psychologically and physiologically.

The study, called “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance,” found that subjects who exhibited “dominant” body language — like putting their feet up on a desk while leaning back in a chair, or spreading their hands wide and leaning forward on a table — for just one minute experienced a spike in testosterone, the hormone responsible for increased risk tolerance and feelings of power. The so-called “power poses” also decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

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On the contrary, those who posed in positions considered to be passive experienced a slight spike in cortisol, and — in a test that followed the one-minute pose — these subjects were also less inclined to risk their money in a gamble.

The study tested both men and women, and similar results were found in each group.

While the application of this study to the workplace is not exactly literal (i.e., the next time you want a raise, you should not go into your boss’s office and exert your dominance by leaning back in your chair and kicking your feet up on her desk) there are some messages that can be applied to your career:

Don’t be afraid to take up space: The poses considered by the study to be “high power” are classified as such because they are open and extroverted. They require you to take up space, which is a natural way that both humans and animals establish dominance — think peacocks spreading their feathers, or bullfrogs puffing out their chests.

To get your own testosterone pumping, subtly make your pose more powerful by:

  • Standing with your hands on your hips
  • Putting an arm on each armrest when sitting, instead of crossing them
  • Standing up straight
  • Taking a slightly wider stance during presentations or when speaking to a group
  • Leaning in slightly when sitting around a table with a group

Fake it till you make it: “Fake it till you make it” usually means that you should put on confident airs even when you’re shaking like a leaf. But, in light of this new study, it seems that you can also trick yourself into believing your  false confidence. Next time you’re nervous at a job interview or in a meeting, assume a power pose, and the drop in cortisol levels could cause your nerves to subside.

What do you think about power posing? Is it something you’d try? Tell us in the comments section.

For more on workplace confidence, check out:

Standing Out in This Job Market

Lacking Confidence? That May Be the Reason You’re Still Job Searching

Bing: Are you getting credit for your work?

75 Comments
  1. I think that’s great because every time you “power pose,” the brain is getting to practice what it eventually will be able to do naturally, or second nature. Like to learn something new, you have to do it 21 times. New neuron connections also develop when the brain learns something new, so that’s got to take a little time. Brain repetition and practice is good and it does eventually work.

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    • What people respond to is valid, healthy and natural confidence. Arrogance or posturing is not effective. People sense what you really are – no matter what acting job you put on. When you know what youre doing, when youre an honest broker, when you are invested in the group mission…and can articulate it clearly – then you will have influence.

      Its important to hold your head up, look people in the eye and to stand straight – but if its just an act…they will laugh at you behind your back and/or dislike you and fence you out.

  2. Well.. i felt a little powerful last week.. we did our annual secret santa.. and I got my boss.. I don’t particularly care for him.. so I bought him this set of politically incorrect cookbooks.. I can’t really tell you the name of them on here.. but if you google “whipped and beaten culinary works” you can find them.. but seriously.. don’t go if you can’t take a good joke.. anyway.. he thought they were funny, and never found out it was me that got em for him.. ha!

    • If you are terribly shy, I recommend joining Toastmasters. It is an easy, safe, supportive einvironment to help you build self-confidence. Most everyone who joins is shy when they come, but it eventually goes away if you keep going to meetings. It’s like building muscles as the gym. It doesn’t happen the first time you go, they build a little more each time till you eventually have musciles. Try it I think you will be surprised how much of a difference it can make.

  3. Wow. Hands on hips, arms on each armrest – I was unknowingly power posing! No wonder they would walk out of the office head bowed backwards, like a subservient geisha. And I’m talking about the men. Haha!

    • Debbie,congratulations. You’re stupid. People like you are ineffective. The staff at the office doesn’t like or trust you. The management thinks youre a jackass and are looking for a way to promote you laterally – just to get rid of you.

      You sound more insecure than the people you claim to intimidate.

      • Hans, when you respond that like to someone else, it’s aggressive which is likewise ineffective at work or in communication. Non-verbals are an important part of communication and often folks can use it when they don’t feel assertive and others will tell some of the time whether it mathces how they feel, and some of the time they won’t. Everyone can become more assertive but it happens *incrementally*, including the whole package of one’s words, body language, and one’s cognitions (intention, inner dialogue, etc). None of that happens over night.

        • This is way tooooo much touchy feelly bull. Comes across as a bunch of mamby pamby excuse making. Oh for the days when men were men and women were women. I fear that many will faint at the appearance of some next great catastrophic occurrence. Sad… very sad.

        • Debbie and Nicolle sounds like typical dumb women. I just fired one’s ass last week who was “power posing”. lol.

          It would help if you two get your head out of your butt. Leave management to men.

          Best!

          Big Daddy

  4. You can “Fake it till you make it” but only to an extent. If your head isn’t there yet, it’s could look pretty silly.

    I have found after years in a profession with a lot of aggressive men and woman, it’s often a good strategy to stay low profile. By that I don’t mean assuming subservient stances or relinquishing your territory. But sometimes its best (male or female) to just do what you have to do while flying under the radar.

    But you certainly don’t ever want to seem introverted. I agree with that 100%. I am thinking more, resolute & having a frame of mind, which naturally leads to the right body language. As in, I am going to get this done right in this place right now, which means spreading out my “stuff” (palm pilot, coffee, paperwork), rather than the other way around.

    Very interesting about the testosterone spikes and cortisol lowering. Cool.

  5. I am not sure what is the iq level of those who write these stupid articles. They assume every one is at the same level (shyness, big mouth, intelligent, educated etc). These tricks may work for some people and may be disasterous for many others. Be careful when you try these tricks infront of your co-workers and boss.

  6. Body language is a natural phenomenon. From it very much can be inferred.
    Artificially setting body, is, misleading themselves and others.
    Eyes and body movements speak about your state of mind, intentions and feelings.

  7. I haven’t been on the job market for 6 years (pensioner) so maybe I have no right to take part in this but all the same – if you have a case, so to speak, if you know your arguments are sound and your demands reasonable, is there really any need for all this playacting? Also, if everybody knows the maneuvers, won’t they lose effect? Besides, it could turn a workplace into a puppet theater where everybody poses in all kind of studied ways to bolster their own self-esteem which would be just plain ridiculous. Also, by instinct we all know the power moves and use them when we need them (and have done from our earliest childhood). Am I totally off here or would I really have to put my hands on my hips 21 times to get a raise these days?
    Just asking.

  8. Another boring article aimed at women, pretending to be fair and balanced towards men. There were (5) suggestions listed. Number one is way off base. Placing your hands on your hips is body language that says ‘I am superior’. What we don’t need is ANY more women believing they are superior to anyone. When men do the things women hate, women call it ‘sexist’ and ‘controlling’. When women do the very same things, they call it ‘empowering’ or ‘you go girl attitude’. The hypocrisy is astounding.

    • You have that right Banderman. The reason many women fail at work is because they are not team players and are out only for themselves. Men typically reciprocate – today I keep the bear off your back, tomorrow you keep it off mine. With many women its “you keep the bear off my back, and maybe I might do it for you sometime…if I feel like it”. (from “Why Jenny Cant Lead – a feminists book on management).

      Articles like this, along with stupid advertising and TV shows feed girls and women a huge pile of BS. Its not how the world works. Try the crap you read about in glamour or listen to on TV shows and youre gonna fail.

      I seriously doubt the author of the article has any real expertise – the article is classic BS fluff.

      • You are both right-speaking your educated best will get you noticed and promoted. Women and girls who watch the movies and teleivisioon showing themselves as tough as men are only going to lose. Keeping your head down in a corporate enviroment will help you keep your job…speaking from experience!

      • If you don’t believe in yourself, then others won’t see your potential. Presentation is very important. As for the woman topic, women do have to prove themselves more in the workplace. Generally speaking, studies show that men start off making more than women. This is having the same degree, and same years of experience. Men continue to climb up the ladder faster than women. When a woman moves up, the rumors start. People imply that she has sexed her way up the ladder. It is ridiculous. Oh and actually men talk more than women. If a group of men and women are in a room together, the men dominate the conversation. The women are continuously interrupted by the men. Now I am not sure if men talk more than women in small groups of same gender, but I remember the study showed that men talk more than women when men and women were together.

        • Hi Michelle. That’s all your basic trends of sexism in a culture, such as this culture in the U.S. The first thing about sexism or any -isms, is that they are so ingrained in a way of thinking or doing things, that people aren’t even aware of them or their participation in them. So for men, they have experienced the privelege of getting higher wages for the same job, getting more mentors in the workplace by far, getting advancement for whereas women will hit the “glass ceiling”, getting more recognition than women who will have to prove themselves by doing even more work in order to get recognized, being given the benefit of the doubt in conversation whereas women will be doubted first, being praised for being assertive and aggressive whereas women will be negatively judged by not only men but women as well (internalized sexism), media messages that are obvious. There’s alot of research and literature out there that’s very eye-opening for both sexes if they are open to reading it. For many though, it behooves them to not challenge their thoughts, and they are invested in not changing. They are usually easily spotted by their anger.

    • The article is aimed at everyone and is a result not only of the research cited here, but also years of psychology research and proven methods on what is assertive communication. There’s nothing gender specific in this article. And the research cited for this article, which you can see if you click the link, was done by Harvard and Columbia. When you insert your own interpretation that it’s about women, and make broad stroke judgements about all women, and negative ones at that, then yes you do sound sexist.

  9. I ask people understand the underlying psychology behind this and not be too quick to criticize.

    What the study suggests that some people can use posture to improve their self confidence as ONE of the tools to succeed in life.

    This concept is not something new. Martial arts and yoga all stress the importance of posture and form to improve blood circulation and to improve confidence. So why not apply that to your daily life whether its work or school?

    If I look at the people at my work who are strong mentally and are leaders in their group, I see a similar physical form. They tend to as the article suggests, put their feet on the table, have a wider stance when they walk or sit. They just have a bigger physical presence. Now one can argue that their physical stance is a reaction to their already strong mental state. But I seem to think one can start either way.

    However one of the lessons I learnt in psycholoy class was that to change ones attitude you need to change ones behaviour first. That means in order to improve ones confidence and mental state, start acting like someone who wants to be that, the mind will over the time learn to adapt to this new sense of self. This does not suggest you start acting like a jerk, confidence does not equal arrogance.

    The mind and the body are connected.

    • I have naturally display the non verbal behavior you suggest in this article. I have applied for promotions; and pay increase at work. I have performed at “exceeds” and “outstanding levels”. At my most reacert job performance review I was told that some elements working against are that I am perceived being “too professional and unapproachable” , and that I needed to work on that.

      What my supervisors do not understand is that I am naturally; and made to posture that way provided that rigorous parenting style and education I was put through during my early childhood experiences.

      • Marina, it sounds like you are a task-oriented person. Then it might help you to look into assertiveness and relationships specifically, or building relationships, to balance out your work ethic.

  10. On the positive side, those of us who already do these things naturally are provided an explanation of the physiological science behind it.

    On the negative side, power poses are only part of the communication, both verbal and non-verbal. If a submissive introvert attempts a power pose and all other verbal and non-verbal don’t match, the mixed signal will only serve to confuse everyone present. I’ve seen it happen and it’s quite awkward.

    In short, just because you understand something, doesn’t mean you should use it.

  11. I climbed the corporate ladder and made VP at 30 and board member at 35. At 37 I started my own company that I have run for 15 years. I can tell you this – the article is utter BS. Pose all you want. Wear a red tie, wear your “power dress”. …this stuf is all transparent posturing and manitulation. Power at work is influence – not force. If people feelt they can trust you, if you keep your word, if you do not promise what you can not deliver, if people feel a personal connection with you..thats “power”. Let me add this too – only dysfunctional organizations use force and power. Its a stupid 1960s concept. If you think being intimidating will get you ahead – youre a fool and a loser. Be competent, be smart, be decent, be reliable and be honest. The rest is crap for idiots who are into games …such BS only works with other game players.

    • I agree with you. However, many people have no control about working for micro-managing control freaks. It’s a fine line between being who you are and palying supervisors games becuase they like to intimidate and keep you guessing whether you have a job tomorrow or not according to thier mood. This kind of treatment is going on more and more with the bad economy.

    • Yes, this is a result of social Darwinismus!
      We have too many pretenders and not enough performers.

      Calling for knowledge, respect, honesty, humbleness would be more appropriate and creative in the state of political, social,career and famiy state of affairs we find ourselves today.

      This article is calling for more of what we do not need and does not work.

    • HANS
      My thoughts exactly ! In these economic times no company can afford to promote a “poser” who “looks confident” that person needs to back it up with knowledge, intelligence , reliability !
      ps. The creators of the study are not grounded in todays job-market reality, obviously.
      where do these people get this pseudo-psych bull ?

    • i am a female, and i totally agree with Hans. The women in this country should learn to be more respectful and grateful, not in the workplace striking a pose. compliance & obedience

  12. Might I start off by saying that it sounds like the author isn’t trying to say these body positions will give you actual power, but make you FEEL more powerful, therefore boosting self-confidence. When self-confidence is high we tend to preform at the best of our abilities.

    It is also important to compare the attitude you are trying to convey with the climate at your work place. If you convey a powerful, self-confident, leadership type attitude in a workplace that emphasizes on collaboration, you’re not likely to get far.

    As a young woman, I think these tips would be helpful to me. In my work environment I am surrounded by men and women 20+ years my senior who have much more experience and knowledge. It is intimidating to say the least! I’ll give it a try and hope that small boosts in self-confidence will take the jitters away.

  13. Threatened by women much, Hans? Wow. Guys like you always make me laugh.

    I agree that posturing and pretending won’t work, but real power always does, regardless of the sex of the powerful person.

    All of us have to learn skills at work and in life, even if we have natural talent. This is just another skill set, designed to deliver a desired result. The biological reinforcement is like natural talent, the body language is just practice of the skill.

    That said, not everyone is good at everything. Know yourself, and practice in small ways, in safe environments with family and friends before trying this at work. You don’t want to come off as a posing loser. But if you sincerely want to be more powerful and have more control in your life, you can. This is just one small tool to help you achieve that.

  14. IN SELLING,THERE IS AN OFTEN USED (AND OFTEN MISUSED) TECHNIQUE:
    “ITS NOT NECESSARILY WHAT YOU SAY,BUT HOW YOU SAY IT”
    POSTURE IS PART OF IT
    AFTER A PERIOD OF TIME,IT BECOMES PART OF YOU.AT THAT POINT,YOU BELIEVE IT,AND SO DO OTHERS

  15. How about do not be phony!
    I can spot a “wana be” in a minute.
    If you do have it, you dont have it!
    Be a real leader and go start your own business!
    Being a phony is easy, being real is hard!

  16. I am a successful woman in a male dominated profession. I exhibit, naturally, all five postures without ever having thought of them as domineering (it’s just who I am.) So, I must agree not only with the researchers, but also with the previous comment by postmyopinion. The 5 postures are powerful, but the behavior must be natural, and come from a place of authenticity. As always, be who you truly are, pursuing your true interests, respectful and caring of others, and success will follow (not to mention personal fulfillment.)

  17. Career Builder just laid my son off because his sales weren’t high enough. How do you sell jobs when there aren’t any? Power pose all you want, it’s all about greed.

  18. I agree with Hans Krugger.

    This article highlights posturing and intimidating. IT WILL BACKFIRE.

    Most people you are posturing to DO NOT appreciate the poses and will be rather peeved at such obnoxious behavior. If you want to feel confident, just take deep breaths and mentally say to yourself, ” I can do this” before you embark on any endeavor or presentation or meeting. It takes practice, but it will work.

    These studies are simple measurements of chemicals and observations under tightly controlled specific situations – NOT real life situations involving a person’s personality, the power of one’s mind and the power of building confidence through belief in one’s strengths and abilities.

  19. Power isn’t about how you dominate others. It isn’t about posing and faking it either. It’s certainly not about titles. It’s confidence in your ability to effectively “affect” others in a positive and meaningful way.
    What experiences are you creating for others by trying to be more powerful than them?

  20. Jenny sorry to hear that. I know from experience what your son is going through. When you said greed the company has to make tough decision not because of greed but sustainability in this tough economy. When you are not selling there will be no revenue coming in to pay employees so to cut losses someone has to go because you just can’t pay their wages anymore. It is simple as that.

    You are right they can pose all they want and not make it because people are struggling with this high unemployment rate.

  21. After I knock somebody out, I like to rest my foot on their head or maybe even sit on them. It’s the only real way to display dominant physical body language.

  22. I for one always look for ways to improve myself: physically, spiritually, mentally & intellectually.

    Hats off to the person who posted this. Noone has said *be a fake & fake yourself into success* … The premise is to improve your posture, be proud of who you are, believe in your abilities & aspirations and don’t let the perception of others hold you back. Many times, it is simply due to posture that individuals can be misread and not recognized for what their true potential is.

    Simple.

    There are many quietly-confident, selfless individuals who are EXTREMELY intelligent, and deserve more kudos in the business world. They deserve additional success and by integrating these very easy techniques can lead to better jobs or promotion. It is always important to continue to learn a few extra skills in assertive behavior which create more engagement in the business world, causing individuals to begin to take MORE risks {as the study indicates} and create the potential to make several thousand dollars more per year.

    If sitting up straight & leaning in means “posturing” oneself as “more confident” – go for it. Confidence is, afterall, a behavior that is measured by self-belief, appearance, knowledge & actions.

    Confidence: 1: Faith, Trust 2: a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circustances 3: the quality or state of being certain: CERTITUDE 4: a relation of trust or intimacy b: reliance on another’s discretion c: legislative support 5: a communication made in confidence

    syn … a state of mind or manner marked by easy coolness and freedom from uncertainty, diffidence, or embarrassment. Faith in oneself and one’s powers without any suggestion of conceit or arrogance. Assurance carries a stronger implication of certainty and may suggest arrongance or lack of objectivity in assessing one’s own powers. Self-possession implies an ease or coolness under stress that reflects perfect self-control and command of one’s powers. Aplomb applies to the bearing or behavior under difficulties of a person with marked assurance or self-possession but usually carries none of the unpleasant connotation often felt in assurance.

    p.s. knocking someone out is assault and may require “time”. If this occurs, one could practice posturing sitting in a cell block while the government “sits” on you.

    Great article!!!

    • I prefer sleeping through my jail time as opposed to sitting there. It beats being under paid and bossed around by someone who sits at a desk with his feat up. Or even worse, dealing with business men every day.

  23. Heres the reality– regardless of how you standor hold your arms, when you open your mouth to speak, you will be judged on how intelligent knowledgeable and, sincere you are. Som instead of studying the art of body language, how about studying the information. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.

  24. Power posing–sounds interesting. However, I’m only 5’1″, weigh less than 110 lbs. Don’t know if ANY power posing will help me out. HAHAHA. Almost everyone is taller and bigger than me ! With that said, it’s really the experience and skills you have that counts on the job ! So, no worries there !

  25. Interesting article. What I’ve done as far as “power posing” isn’t done all the time, but rather if I’m trying to assert my opinion (especially after someone disagrees with me) on a moral issue. Other than that its more of less of a mix of stances as it isn’t always such a good thing to look so dominant that your co-workers won’t know what to think of you. Sometimes though, its not always your body language, its how you speak too…I usually drop the volume if I want someone to actually “listen” to what I have to say. Your eyes can say a lot too. When people look to one side after I say something, their trying to “dodge” what I’m telling them.
    No need to be cagey or territorial, the idea is to show others that your not a floor mat, not superior, but on equal footing. They have their role, you have yours.

  26. P.S. There was some talk of a glass ceiling earlier. This is not the 1960′s anymore. Its been my experience at work and life, that women get away with much more than a man and get treated much better. Two good examples I’ve heard; Say a man f**ks up, everyone goes and has a beer and laughs about it later on. If a woman f**ks up? Everyone feels sorry for her and some defend her. Woman bumps into a man on the job? She smiles nervously and he just shrugs it off. Man bumps into woman? He can get arrested. Oh yeah and women make up the majority of the work-force, but now the complaint is they don’t get paid enough? Look up “Wage gap myth” for the explantation.

  27. This should have been titled, Ways to Feel Like You’re on a Power Trip. Because any time I see someone at work with their feet up, or leaning on something (I don’t care how far apart their arms are), or standing there with their arms on to one another, it shows that they aren’t doing anything. It just ends up pissing everyone off because they are so lazy. And then all that standing around becomes habit forming so they become more and more lazy until everyone hates them!

  28. Where there is some truth to this observation, I outright and vehemently point to possible flaws in this “study” :- Not large enough a population, Not covering all bases of global, cultural, religious and work environments to balance the outcome, etc. Often, in family owned businesses – small and large, other employees will never have a chance like the family members who impose dominance by virtue of their place in business … none of these poses will help because some body will have made most of the decisions.

    Most importantly, the article or the study does not appear to emphasize certain golden values of results, dedication, social circles, etc. True respect and honor and admiration are not necessarily coming from those who may force their influence on other workers in these “alternative” ways of behavior.

    Consistency, truthfulness, fair and unbiased friendships, communication and working for common good will always triumph in the end.

  29. You can pose all you want, but if you don’t have the knowledge to back up your stance, you will be found out. You shouldn’t try to bluff your way through life. However, if you are trying to stand up for yourself against a boss that is trying to intimidate your for one reason or another, the increase in testosterone will be helpfull to your self confidence. But, again, it will not replace knowledge.

  30. Very interesting that most have missed the point of this article. It is not saying that if you “power pose” you will APPEAR more powerful and confident and get a raise, etc. It says that you will FEEL more confident due to a spike in testosterone that comes from actually doing the position in the first place. So, to avoid appearing like you are faking your confidence or acting like an idiot – just go in the bathroom, look yourself in the eye and put your hands on your hips. Then go interact with the world with your head up and making eye contact. Remember that you are an important part of the team and that when you have an entire body of people even the pinky finger is important! Good luck!

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