Psychologist Amy Cuddy assumes a 'high power' pose
Psychologist Amy Cuddy assumes a 'high power' pose

Adopting a power pose to boost your confidence can help your performance at work – but there are places where these poses could do more harm than good.

Power poses, such as standing with your hands on your hips and your legs apart to show confidence, are thought to effect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain and in turn boost a person's performance.

But Harvard psychologist Dr Amy Cuddy says there is one place at work where people should not adopt power poses - during meetings. These poses can make others divert their gaze away from a person, suggesting the person who looks away feels intimidated from the overt display of dominance made in a power pose, instead of recognising another person’s confidence.

To prove this, Dr Cuddy and her colleagues conducted a pair of experiments in which they asked participants to view a series of photos of men and women who were either adopting dominant and powerful postures or showing themselves in submissive, powerless postures.

Discussing the study in her book, Presence, Dr Cuddy said the group recorded the gaze patterns of the participants using an eye-tracking method. When a person sat in a chair and looked at the pictures on a computer screen, the group was able to record the movements of their eyes, noting where their gaze fell and when, and for how long.

Amy Cuddy speaks onstage during Cosmopolitan Magazine's Fun Fearless Life ConferenceAmy Cuddy speaks onstage during Cosmopolitan Magazine's Fun Fearless Life Conference

Dr Cuddy said the difference in people’s reactions to images of dominant and submissive poses were “stark”.

When looking at dominant poses, such as a person standing with their hands on their hips with their feet apart, people “quickly averted their gazes from the faces, looking down at the legs and feet or looking away from the person in the image altogether,” she wrote.

But when participants were looking at images of people in submissive poses, such as someone sitting down with slouched shoulders and folded hands, they looked at people’s faces.

Dr Cuddy adds that it is common to unconsciously mimic another person’s body language as it “makes interactions smoother”. But sometimes when there is a power imbalance between two individuals, a person will complement the other’s body language: “The higher power person is likely to use exaggerated power postures, which leads the lower person to use exaggerated powerless ones,” she said.

"Remember, we want to power to, not power over. We want to look confident and relaxed, not as though we’re trying our best to dominate. The goal is intimacy, not intimidation. Commanding a room as though you were a silverback leaves little space, physically or emotionally, for anyone else,” Dr Cuddy writes.

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