Striking a Pose: Is There Anything to it?

When Madonna released her smash hit “Vogue” in 1990 with the lyrics “Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it,” she was talking about the dance floor, but Harvard professor Amy Cuddy has brought the concept into the workplace with her book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, that recommends “power poses” to step up your game at work. Is there anything to it?

Most people are already well-versed on the importance of body language in the workplace, particularly in the realm of talent management and HR when interviewing potential hires. This is also true in the relationships between employees and their managers. We are constantly sending all kinds of signals, subtle or not, with our physical mannerisms when interacting with others. What Cuddy suggests is that rather than leaving all this up to subconscious chance, make it deliberate and exercise some control over it. The effect this may have on others and the way they perceive you can be powerful, not so much in a direct way, but indirectly. The important thing here is how conscious, deliberate control of your physical self affects you internally.

Her focus is on strategies to get people through high-pressure situations and stressful moments, the kinds of situations that when they’re over leave you wishing you could do them again. The appeal here is powerful – after all, who wouldn’t want to approach those situations with confidence and get satisfying results rather than feeling dread heading into them and regret on the other side.

The idea is that the kinds of physical practices she recommends actually change your internal body chemistry in ways that literally turbo-charge confidence when you need it the most. And she offers up the science behind why it works. The “power poses” literally make you feel more powerful, passionate, confident, authentic, and more present. In a way, this almost sounds like a “fake it ‘til you make it” approach, which is not a new concept. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard was a proponent of this idea. He recommended that if you wanted to really change yourself, start acting the way you want to be and eventually it will become reality. It’s essentially habituating yourself into a new you. Part of her point is that the well-known “imposter syndrome” – the nagging feeling you don’t really belong where you’re at and you’re filled with doubts about your abilities – is much more widespread than we might have imagined, and it is also debilitating.

When you adopt the physical pose of those who are powerful, you give yourself that initial boost in confidence you need. Others see that and respond to it, which sets up a positive feedback loop that keeps you heading in the right direction of poise and confidence.

Cuddy’s ideas on power posing went viral on the Internet through her 2012 TED Talk (source), one of the most viewed presentations in that series ever. The book followed the talk, coming out in 2015. As might be expected, there are those who think the scientific basis she establishes in her book is dubious if not downright wrong. For an interesting article on that opinion, read Slate’s The Power of the “Power Pose” (source) – it suggests her original findings from a study back in 2010 may have been just plain wrong, especially in light of a significant failure to replicate her findings.

In spite of this, it’s also true that the effect appears to be borne out in the real, lived experiences of millions of people, and Cuddy shares many of those stories in her book. In that sense, whether or not the scientific claims work out correctly may be beside the point. If it’s working for people, more power to them (literally). In the realm of talent management, you’re constantly on the lookout for strategies that work to develop your employees into peak performers, and power posing may very well deserve a place in your tactical repertoire.

January 3, 2017   Updated :January 24, 2017   Amy Cuddy, power posing, presence   

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