Eric* was frustrated. Two weeks ago, he’d been forced to reprimand one of his direct reports, Thomas, for not performing his work correctly. Although Thomas had verbally expressed the desire to change, his body language had since told a different story. Normally a cheerful person, now Thomas refused to smile, talked in a subdued tone, sat with his arms crossed, and slouched at his desk–basically pouting. Eric began to wonder if he should replace Thomas before his bad attitude dragged down the rest of the team’s morale.
Are you aware of how your body language impacts your interactions with others in the workplace? Although Thomas hadn’t said a negative word to anyone, his body language communicated a negative attitude. Whether you’re working at your desk, being interviewed, conducting an interview, attending a meeting, or even interacting on a video call, your body language communicates what’s really going on inside your head. Regardless of how smart you are, it’s how you carry yourself that can damage your career or launch it to new heights.
But what if you feel crummy and want to slouch, like Thomas did after being reprimanded? Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, believes that changing your body language will change your attitude. Citing research results from social psychologist Amy Cuddy, Bradberry makes the case that your body language–eye contact, gestures, posture–is more important than your IQ. Would you be surprised to learn that the success of your interactions hinges on your hormones?
According to Cuddy, consciously adjusting your body language to be positive improves your attitude by increasing your testosterone, which improves your confidence and helps others to perceive you as trustworthy. It also decreases your cortisol, lowering your stress levels and enabling you to think and express yourself more clearly.
“While a decrease in cortisol or an increase in testosterone is great on its own,” says Bradberry, “the two together are a powerful combination that is typically seen among people in positions of power. This combination creates the confidence and clarity of mind that are ideal for dealing with tight deadlines, tough decisions, and massive volumes of work. People who are naturally high in testosterone and low in cortisol are known to thrive under pressure. Of course, you can use positive body language to make yourself this way even if it doesn’t happen naturally.”
Bradberry cites even more research that will make you want to sit up straight! In addition to improving your attitude, positive body language has been proven to help people negotiate more successfully. Because it helps you communicate your emotions and ideas effectively, it also increases your emotional intelligence, thus improving your relationships with others.
Not only does your posture affect how others perceive you–it also affects how you perceive yourself, says another expert on body language, Carol Kinsey Goman. The author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt How You Lead, Goman asserts that sitting up straight improves your confidence in your own opinions and abilities. Research shows that another benefit of good posture is an increase in your sense of resiliency, control, and ability to tolerate pain and emotional distress.
The happy conclusion of all this research is that, unlike Thomas, you don’t have to be a victim of the way you feel. Changing your body language will change your attitude. If you receive a reprimand or have a negative interaction, don’t slouch or frown–choose instead to stand tall, pull back your shoulders, and hold your head high. This will improve the way you feel, help you to interact more positively, and generate more favorable reactions to your self-expression.
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*no real names are used to protect anonymity