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Body language

Body language plays an essential role when it comes to communication, as presented in the Ted Talk speech delivered by Amy Cuddy. Very often, people tend to neglect the relevance of body language, as to some, it may not be as obvious or important. However Amy Cuddy does an effective presentation persuading the audience that body language is critical for communication.

The purpose of Amy Cuddy’s speech was to explain to the listener that besides the audience, we ourselves are also influenced by our nonverbals; through our thoughts, our feelings and our physiology. The speaker points out examples of nonverbal expressions of power and dominance, showing the audience that making oneself big, stretching out, or opening up, conveys power. On the other hand, when we are powerless, Miss Cuddy states that we tend to close up, wrap ourselves up, or make ourselves small. By giving these examples, the speaker is persuading the audience to adapt the body language of power, rather than weakness, which is an attractive proposal for the audience, as no one wants to be perceived as weak. It should be noted however that these poses work in certain contexts. For example, when one is going through airport security, and when asked to go through the body scanner, then one is required to raise the arms outward, displaying an open posture. However in this context the individual feels powerless.

Amy Cuddy makes a couple of key statements in her presentation, and then supports those statements through examples and analysis.

1. Our bodies change our minds.

2. Our minds change our behavior.

3. Our behavior can change our outcome.

It is generally accepted in society that leaders across different fields tend to share similar attributes when it comes to body language. Besides being great communicators through delivering messages with confidence and conviction, leaders also display common body language; such as walking upright, firm handshakes, making eye contact, etc. These are also signs of power and strength in primate hierarchies. Amy Cuddy’s premise is that in order for one to be able to reach a level of leadership and power, one needs to practice “power posing.” Miss Cuddy refers to the statement “fake it till you make it”,” and then uses that as a stepping stone by emphasizing to “fake it, until you become it.”

Amy Cuddy’s message is plausible and in good intent, however it needs concrete scientific backing for universal acceptance.

There is no magic pill for success, and in order for one to achieve one’s long term goals, one needs to follow certain habits regularly, over a period of time. As humans, it is common for us to get attracted towards instant gratification, things that can make us get from weak to strong, slow to fast, mediocre to excellent, etc, in a short period of time. The truth is, if a magic pill or formula existed, then Amy Cuddy would not have gone through her presentation, as it would not be appealing. Philosopher William Durant once wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” (1). This ties into Miss Cuddy’s presentation. The speaker tries to convince the audience that if one practices power poses, then one can indeed change the mind, and by mind, she is referring to physiological effects that make up our thoughts and feelings, including hormones. “Habits are powerful factors in our lives, because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness, or ineffectiveness” (2). The speaker mentions that tiny tweaks, over a period a time, can lead to big changes, and hence recommends to make power posing a habit, especially during stressful evaluative situations.

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There can also be an analogy made to Miss Cuddy’s theory when looking at depression, (which is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest), and the effects of exercise on it. For example when one has depression or anxiety, exercise often helps combat such mood disorders (3). People react to potential solutions like these in different ways. It is essentially the same concept, where Miss Cuddy gave an example with a lab experiment, where people adopted for 2 minutes, in poses of making oneself big, or stretching out, versus closing up or wrapping themselves (testing high power poses versus low power poses). The speaker states that after these experiments, when saliva samples were taken, high power posers experienced a 20% increase in testosterone levels, and low power posers experienced a 10% decrease in testosterone levels. With regards to the cortisol hormone, high power posers evidenced a 25% decrease in cortisol levels, and low power posers evidenced a 15% increase in cortisol levels. Similar to how physical exercise can help decrease mood disorders, per Amy Cuddy’s experiment, these physical power poses can help people gain more confidence.

However as stated earlier, it is important to note that Amy Cuddy’s theory has not been universally validated when tested across a range of experiments. For example, across four studies using dyadic designs, there was no evidence found that power poses had valuable benefits on power-related outcomes. These studies used more realistic methodologies and, in total, had a larger sample size than any previous study on this topic (4). Miss Cuddy’s concept also is a subconscious phenomenon. It calls for repeating power poses, on a regular basis where one adapts to it, till eventually it can become natural. It has no harm. It can certainly be practiced in stressful or high pressure situations, however the claim by Miss Cuddy that adopting these poses on a regular basis can enable one to fake it till one makes it, or even fake it till one becomes it, seems a bit farfetched from a pure scientific point of view, and thus has received some skepticism in the scientific community. Clear evidence backed by controlled scientific studies is missing.

Despite this however, the speaker does a great job in appealing to the audience’s emotions through storytelling. She shares her story of how at 19 years old her IQ dropped by two standard deviations after sustaining a serious head injury through a car accident. She explains to the audience how she really struggled with this, as her identity of being smart, was taken away from her, because she was identified as being smart and gifted as a child. Miss Cuddy mentions that there is nothing more powerless than having one’s core identity taken away from oneself. She continues to say that there is nothing that leaves one feeling more powerless. One can tell this is one of the driving factors of her passion to empower people, as she shares her own struggles of having lost her power and core identity, and she used power posing to move forward to regain her strength. Thus in her presentation, Miss Cuddy effectively holds the audience’s interest. While watching her presentation, I could relate to the need of feeling confident in stressful situations; I could follow and understand the solution that she proposed. Moreover the fact that she herself has been a survivor and has accomplished so much in spite of adversities, gives an added impact to her presentation.

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Amy Cuddy’s solution of power posing further resonated with me, through my workplace. I work in the field of corporate banking, where I have to communicate effectively to clients, and deliver messages with conviction. For the past 5 years, I have been lucky enough to have a great manager, who is my mentor. My manager has the qualities of a “powerful” leader, which are mentioned by Amy Cuddy. Upright walk, confident communication style, solid eye contact, open posture, etc, my manager has most of the nonverbal signs of power and strength. Amongst many words of wisdom which I have received from him over the years, one of them actually directly relates to power posing. I have been told by my manager to sit upright while working, instead of sitting in a slouched position. In addition, while engaging in important conference calls, I was told to talk on the phone while standing up, instead of sitting down in a slouched position. The concept of standing up and talking on the phone, stems from feeling more confident, through open posture positions. I have witnessed my manager practice this technique during important conference calls with top clients or executives. In addition, I have witnessed another coworker of mine use the same technique. After watching Amy Cuddy’s speech, I was able to better relate to the concept of power posing, by witnessing and recognizing it first hand at my workplace. Miss Cuddy’s speech appealed to me, where I can see myself doing power posing before evaluative social threat situations.

In order to further appeal to the audience’s emotions and build credibility, the speaker also ties in her own struggles to the struggles of a student. Miss Cuddy mentions how after her accident, she worked really hard, and eventually ended up at Princeton. However while at Princeton, initially she felt that she did not belong there, and she felt like quitting. With some words of encouragement from her advisor, she was told to fake it till she made it. Miss Cuddy stresses on the fact that she took that advice to heart, and with lots of practice, this advice worked for her. Similarly she encountered a student, who faced an anxiety, which made the student feel that she was not supposed to be at a prestigious university. The student was shy and did not participate in class, due to lack of confidence. Miss Cuddy explains to the audience of how she gave the student the same advice she was given by her advisor, to “fake it till you make it.” The speaker elaborates that this advice not only worked for her student, but months later she noticed that the student not only faked it till she made it, but she “faked it till she became it.” The student was able transform herself. Through this example, Miss Cuddy drives her point, that if one does something repeatedly over time, in a consistent manner, then one can internalize it, and transform oneself for the better.

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It is normal for individuals for finding ways in gaining confidence. During the presentation Amy Cuddy presented a solution to a universal need, for one to appear, and also become confident. Moreover the solution that she recommends is simple, and it does not require any expenses, excessive time or dependence on another person. The solution lies with oneself, and all that one needs to do is spend a few minutes every day in order to acquire a mental state that is positive and confident. Amy Cuddy claims that a few minutes of power posing can change our lives in a meaningful way, whether it be while speaking in a school board meeting, giving a speech, job interview, etc.

Even though the solution of power posing has not been 100% validated by the scientific community, this does not negate the fact that it has worked for many. It has worked for Amy Cuddy, and it has worked during the lab experiments which she revealed. However from a personal point of view, as Amy Cuddy was able to appeal to my emotions, coupled with the fact that I have witnessed power posing techniques at my own workplace, I was sold at this proposition, and I would consider implementing it, so that it could potentially improve my life in a meaningful way. The audience should know that power posing is not a quick fix. There will not be any instant gratification. However it is those small habits over time, when performed consistently, which lead to long term success; and this is essential to understanding the power posing phenomenon. As a society, we need to find new ways of assessing and reporting growth in the habits of mind (5). From faking it to “making it”,” to faking it to “becoming it”,” there is a journey involved, and this journey can be worthwhile, when the final destination is of an individual who attains confidence, which eventually opens doors to countless opportunities for future successes.

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