The Power of Body Language

by in Technology

We’re big believers in the power of nonverbal communication here at Lifesize.  We take pride in providing our customers with the ability to meet face-to-face without ever having to leave their office. Since nonverbal communication is conservatively estimated to make up two-thirds of the content of all communication, it’s incredibly important to be aware of what cues we’re sending out to listeners.

One person who’s done a lot to expand the conversation about nonverbal communication is Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist whose lecture on Body Language at TEDGlobal 2012 in Edinburgh has become the second most-viewed video TEDTalk of all time.  The fact that it’s been viewed some 20 million times and counting illustrates just how interested people are in using nonverbal communication to their advantage, which is the focus of Cuddy’s talk.

In primate hierarchies, alpha roles are fluid, as they are in our society  While ape leaders don’t get deposed in the same way that, say, a president loses reelection, the fundamental transference of power is the same.  Cuddy’s research indicated that when primate alphas are displaced, their usurpers undergo a hormonal change.  These new alphas experience sudden increases in testosterone and decreases in cortisol.  Cuddy et al hypothesized that these situational hormone changes existed in humans as well, so they decided to put that theory to the test.

The researches brought volunteers into the lab and had them model literal power positions - the open postures and raised chests associated with positions of dominance - for two minutes.  Other subjects were given submissive, closed postures.  The people assigned power positions tested higher for testosterone and lower for cortisol across the board, while the inverse was found to be true of the submissive set.  The researchers then wanted to subject their findings to more practical conditions, conditions that would test the applicability of their findings to day-to-day life.

Now, in addition to having to practice either high- or low-power poses, subjects underwent a grueling five-minute “job interview” immediately afterwards.  The people conducting the interviews were blind to the conditions; all they knew was that they were supposed to keep a neutral posture during the interviews and then decide which applicants they would hire after reviewing subsequent recordings.  Unsurprisingly, the interviewers universally preferred the subjects who’d just subconsciously improved their testosterone-to-cortisol ratio via power posturing, even though the content of what the “winning applicants” said was not fundamentally different than what the “losing applicants” had said.

In the end, Cuddy found that making an audience more receptive to you and your ideas is as simple as taking a few minutes to improve your power posture.  Here’s where video conferencing comes in.  Not only does pre-interview power posturing work in person, as demonstrated by Prof. Cuddy’s research, but it’s an increasingly viable strategy in long-distance communication as well.  Because video conferencing provides an all-important visual component to these conversations, it ensures that your listener gets the benefit of your improved confidence and on-point body language, making it easier to get your point across, make the sale, or earn the promotion.  Between video conferencing and Dr. Cuddy’s body language tricks, it’s never been easier to look your best!