The Presidential Debates: A Bunch of Posers


I’ve been thinking about power posing a lot lately. Thanks to the major posturing and extreme shows of alpha-maleness last night at the presidential debates, I’m thinking about it even more.

It all started here, with this:  (totally worth the watch, btw)

Dr. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School has studied posture and how it can mean the difference between success and defeat. According to her research, there are two major poses; power and not.

Power poses take up a lot of space, they are more spread out, relaxed ways to use your body that convey confidence and ease. You saw this a lot in the debates; Obama and Romney sat with their legs splayed, appearing at ease and totally in control. They gesticulated, they stood up straight, they did everything they could to increase the amount of space they occupied on that stage.

It’s a good thing too. According to Cuddy, two minutes of power-posing creates an average 8% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in cortisol (stress hormone).  Power posing makes you more confident, more willing to take risks, and more in control. In the course of her research, she conducted an experiment that showed that people who power-posed for two minutes before a mock job interview performed much better than their no-pose peers. Could sitting or standing like a boss really impact our success rates that much? I look to Obama.

No matter whose side you’re on, there’s no denying that Obama did much better this time than at the first debate. Remember first debate Obama, face down at the podium, arms tight to his sides, not moving much, keeping his gestures small? That was low-power posing at it’s finest and it was paired with a low-power performance.

Last night was a much different story.

“Our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves. Our bodies change our minds,” says Cuddy. If Obama felt bullied by Romney last time, he didn’t feel that way here. He was assertive and powerful and it may well have had a lot to do with the way he was standing. By the end of a tough night, Romney was sitting with a hunched back and legs dangling from the seat- obviously not feeling too good about it.

And how about the audience, eh? Notice the women in the room? During the chest-puffed charade on the floor, the women (especially in the front row) seemed to shrink. Remember the woman with the fantastic question about immigration? By the end of the debate, her legs were crossed at the knee and the ankle and her arms were crossed over her chest. She was literally shrinking before our eyes.

Cuddy says that when there are power posers in the room, other people will naturally want to take up less space. The problem is that making yourself smaller relinquishes some of your power. If our bodies change our minds, sitting like a Fiat in a semi-tuck space makes our minds read vulnerability, discomfort, low-confidence, which just increases the power of the assertive person. What’s worse is that the people who are most likely to compensate by shrinking are women, says Cuddy. Whether it’s learned behavior, a natural instinct, or a function of our wardrobe, I don’t know, but it was as present in the room as the egos.

Power-posing is a simple tool that we can all use to shorten our road to success, and women need to pay  special attention- we can use all the power we can get.

Two minutes before your next big moment, stand with your hands above your head, legs apart, fists high, smiling,  like you just won an olympic race. Whatever your power pose is, find it, practice it, use it. No self-help books necessary. Pose your way to success.


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