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Amy Cuddy: Power Poses

Amy Cuddy is best known for her research on how non-verbal behaviours assert power…

I’ll start again: Amy Cuddy is best known for her remarkable 2012 TED talk, ‘Your body language shapes who you are’, which has become the second most watched TED talk, with over 26 million views to date. You can watch it and add to that number at the foot of this blog. And you should.

Amy Cuddy

 

Short Biography

Amy Cuddy was born in 1972 and grew up a small Pennsylvania town. As a result of a car accident during her undergraduate years, she suffered a serious head injury that doctors asserted would compromise her academic ability. Nonetheless, she graduated from the University of Colorado in Social Psychology (1998) and then went on to earn her MA and PhD (2005) in the same subject, at Princeton.

Cuddy took a role as an Assistant Professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, teaching leadership to MBA students. She moved to become Assistant Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University, and then, in 2008, to Harvard Business School as Associate Professor, where she teaches MBA courses and executive education programmes, specialising in negotiation, body language, power and influence.

Cuddy’s Research

Amy Cuddy’s research interests have yielded nuggets of valuable knowledge for managers. Her most famous and impactful for many is the concept of the Power Pose, developed with Dana Carny and Andy Yap. But I will leave her to describe that far better than I ever could, in her TED talk below. Instead, I will focus on her research (with Susan Fiske and Peter Glick) on how we judge one another.

How we judge people

Cuddy’s research indicates that our judgements of people can determine how we will interact with them. This can affect our emotions, intentions and behaviours in hiring, promoting, electing, taking risks, giving to charity, and even persecution and genocide. Two trait dimensions are particularly salient in our judgements: warmth-trustworthiness and competence-power. This leads to stereotyping of racial groups, leading onwards to discrimination and persecution.

The first and most important judgement we make about someone we meet is their warmth: it is an attempt to assess ‘friend or foe?’ Then we try to assess their competence – ‘if they are a foe, how much care do I need to take?’.

Interestingly, competence in one arena leads us to infer a wider competence, whilst incompetence in one arena does not lead us to generalize in the same way. But it is different for warmth: one example of coldness creates an impression that this is our true character. This is how Cuddy describes it in one interview (with The Harvard Magazine):

‘You can purposely present yourself as warm—you can control that, but we feel that competence can’t be faked. So positive competence is seen as more diagnostic. On the other hand, being a jerk—well, we’re not very forgiving of people who act that way.’

Another generalization we make is pervasive and dangerous: we generalize our experiences across a whole social or racial group: gender, ethnicity, age, or nationality.

We also create another dangerous generalization: that warmth means not-competent and competent means not-warm. Too much of one trait leads us to suspect a shortage of the other. Hence the title of her much re-printed 2009 Harvard Business Review article, ‘Just Because I’m Nice, Don’t Assume I’m Dumb’.

Regular readers will know that I am a sucker for models and they don’t get simpler than four boxes. Here is one that flows from this, developed by Cuddy, Fiske and Glick.

Warmth-Competence Cuddy, Fiske, Glick

As soon as you look at this chart, you can see how the people and groups seen as cold are also the ones whom societies persecute – particularly when they are under pressure – either as ‘soft targets’ or as a ‘danger to society’.

Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Amy Cuddy’s 26million+ TED talk that introduced the world to power posing.

[ted id=1569]

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Self Confidence

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is the first part of an extended correspondence course in management.  You can dip into it as you go, or you can follow the course, right from the start.  If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Self confidence is the starting place for any manager.  Your promotion to managerial role has probably been triggered more by your expertise in doing your previous job, your reliability, and your character, than by any specific evidence of your managerial capability.  And that’s fine, because it is the way most of your colleagues were promoted too.

But it can leave you feeling a little nervous about your suitability to manage and, when your boss tells you to ‘get on with it – I have every trust in you’ you can feel a little isolated.  Your boss leaves you to it, your new management peers don’t yet trust you, and your team are wary of how you will treat them, now you have become a manager.

Here are three exercises to help boost your self-confidence.

Exercise 1: A Reassuring Word

In your notebook, complete the following sentences:

  • ‘I earned my managerial role because…
  • ‘My three most valuable managerial assets are…
  • ‘The managers I learned most from are…
  • ‘I will know I am doing a good job as manager when…
  • ‘Things will go wrong; that’s life.  If they do, the people I can go to are…

Exercise 2: Seeing Success

Imagine it is Monday morning and you are in work, ready to start the day.  In a minute, close your eyes and picture yourself there.  Picture your first few conversations and meetings going well.  Notice yourself handling the situations effectively, feeling well-prepared.  As you go through your morning, picture everything you do going as planned. At each stage, notice how good that makes you feel.  At the end of your morning, imagine how positive and confident you will feel.

Now, close your eyes and play that movie in your head for several minutes.

When you have done this, make a note in your notebook about how you felt at the end of each part of your morning.  Write down what you did to achieve your successes.

This is an exercise to repeat several times over the coming days.  Each time you do it, choose another day and either the morning or afternoon.  Every time you do it, you will increase your base level of confidence.

Exercise 3: Power Poses

One of the reasons some people feel more confident than others is simply levels of hormones in their bodies.  For example, increased testosterone levels increase confidence, whilst increased cortisol levels decrease confidence.  Perhaps it is surprising, but your gross posture affects levels of both of these hormones and, whether you are a man or a woman, you can increase testosterone levels and decrease cortisol, by adopting power poses.

You can do these poses for two or three minutes before going into a stressful situation and you can maintain confidence-boosting hormone levels by maintaining upright, open postures during your day.

Power Poses

Stand upright, legs apart – slightly wider than shoulder width – and put your hands on your hips.  If there is a table, counter or a solid back of a stable chair available, place your hands firmly on it, about 70-80cm apart (wider than your shoulders) and lean forward.  Adopt these poses for two minutes or so.

If you have a chair to sit on, try sitting upright, legs apart, with feeet firmly on the floor.  Plant your hands firmly on your upper thighs, with elbows outwards.  Lean your body back a little, with head a little forward.  Or try putting your feet up on a table, leaning back in your chair, with your hands clasped behing your head, elbows splayed out.  Adopt one of these for two minutes.

If these poses remind you of a typical ‘old-school alpha-male boss’, they should.  The difference is that you will adopt these poses privately for a few minutes at most, to boost your confidence for the next meeting; rather than maintain it in the meeting to intimidate your colleagues.

Upright Postures

For all-of-the-time posture, keep to standing with feet at hip or maybe shoulder width, head upright, as if pulled by a puppet string, and arms by your sides.  This open body, coupled with upright posture, will not only make you feel more assertive, but will enhance your breathing, your vocal tone and projection and present your image as confident and authoritative.

Further Reading

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