Researchers in psychology are uncovering amazing facts about how our brains are wired. The results benefit more than just the research scientists and psychologists. Even us engineers can benefit from this information and put it to good use in our daily lives.
Have you ever felt anxiety before a presentation you were to deliver? How about before a job interview? If you’re like most people, me included, you have. The mind sends threat signals to the brain resulting in the body creating hormones to help us deal with the situation. The two primary hormones involved cortisol (the stress hormone) and testosterone (the dominance hormone).
The event our mind perceives as a threat increases cortisol levels and lowers testosterone levels. This leaves us with an elevated heart rate, cold palms, sweaty armpits and a feeling of vulnerability and powerlessness. Definitely not what we need heading into a presentation, job interview, or any high-stress social situation.
Visualization of positive outcomes and experience may help us cope with the anxiety. But coping isn’t what we need in these situations. What we need is a way to change the negative energy that arises into positive energy that will make us centered, authentic, and captivating.
Kick Back and Get Powerful
Research published in 2012 by Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy and Columbia Professor Dana Carney on high-stress social situations revealed some fascinating facts that we can all benefit from before our next sales call, board presentation or job interview. Their study established that adopting a “power pose” for as little as two minutes prior to an event makes a person feel more powerful and willing to assume risks.
Cuddy and Carney required participants to adopt either one of two pose types prior delivering a speech in a mock job interview. The results: those people that adopted the high power poses outperformed the low power poses.
The current experiment tested whether changing one‘s nonverbal behavior prior to a high-stakes social evaluation could improve performance in the evaluated task. Participants adopted expansive, open (high-power) poses, or contractive, closed (low-power) poses, and then prepared and delivered a speech to two evaluators as part of a mock job interview, a prototypical social evaluation. All speeches were videotaped and coded for overall performance and hireability, and the potential mediators of speech quality (e.g., content, structure) and presentation quality (e.g., captivating, confident). As predicted, high power posers performed better and were more likely to be chosen for hire, and this relationship was mediated only by presentation quality, not speech quality. Power pose condition had no effect on body posture during the social evaluation, thus highlighting the relationship between preparatory nonverbal behavior and subsequent performance.
Beyond a person simply performing better in the interview, the research found that adopting the power pose had an effect on cortisol and testosterone levels. High power pose people showed a 20% increase in testosterone (the dominance hormone) and a 25% decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone).
Getting our Body and Mind in Sync
Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it. — Amy Cuddy
What does this mean for you and I? Our bodies change our minds and the resulting change in our minds will change our behaviors. When our behaviors change, the outcomes we experience change as well.
Adopting one of the five power poses for as little as two minutes before entering a job interview, presentation, or networking event gets our body and mind in sync so we increase the opportunity to gain the outcome we want.
We get body language. Each of us understands when another person is open, friendly and willing to help and when they are not. Our finely tuned sense of non-verbal communications influences our behavior towards the other person. This ability to sense the non-verbal doesn’t just apply to other people. The body language we adopt is also a non-verbal cue that will leave us feeling vulnerable and powerless or confident, passionate, and powerful.
Why do you think our mom’s always told us to sit up straight? They were on to something.
When we think of nonverbals, we think of how we judge others. … We tend to forget, though, the other audience that’s influenced by our nonverbals: ourselves. — Amy Cuddy
Christian J. Knutson, P.E., PMP
The Engineering Career Coach
If you liked this post, then take a look at these:
Nisen, Max. “It Only Takes Two Minutes In A ‘Power Pose’ To Completely Boost Confidence.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.
Carney, D. R., A. J. C. Cuddy, and A. J. Yap. “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance.” Psychological Science 21.10 (2010): 1363-368. Web. 1 Mar. 2015.
Cuddy, Amy J.C., Caroline A. Wilmuth, and Dana R. Carney. “The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation.” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13- 027, September 2012.
Cuddy, Amy. “Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.” YouTube. TED Talks, 1 Oct. 2012. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.