One of the many tips offered in my recent book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-A** Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, suggests that you can use your body language to battle a workplace bully. In summary, the book suggests that when you’re feeling over-powered, you will fold your body in as a way to hide. You’ll likely look down, fold your arms, appear uncomfortable in your facial expressions, and hunch your shoulders. But, if you get in a “battle stance” you’ll not only send the message to others that you are standing up for yourself, you’ll actually feel assertive. A battle stance includes arms on your hips or at your side, toes pointed forward, chin up, constant eye contact, and shoulders back. In theory this sounds like it could work, but does it?
Researcher Hillel Aviezer and his colleagues decided to learn if body language does indeed send a strong message to others. Participants in the study had to guess whether the tennis player they watched in a video had just gained or lost a point. They were divided into three groups: One group watched a video that showed just the face and no body, another saw just the body and no face, and the third saw both the face and the body. Participants who could see the bodies, with or without the face, were much more accurate in guessing whether the tennis player had gained or lost the point – which means that body language is more powerful than facial expressions. Check. Your body language can send a message loud and clear to others.
But will your body language affect how you feel? Researcher Amy Cuddy and colleagues found that just one minute of taking a “power pose” can lower stress, lessen fear, increase the capacity for cognitive function, increase feelings of power, and increase risk-taking. All of the “power poses” used in the study included the chest puffed out and the shoulders back. Indeed, your body language can change how you feel – and make you more assertive.
If you have 20 minutes today, have a look at Amy’s TED Talk.