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5 Ways Your Body Language is Making You Powerless

You’re often interrupted in the middle of a sentence. Colleagues railroad you when you try to make a point at a meeting. You’re introduced multiple times to the same person — and she never remembers encountering you.

Dog with head tilted sidways

I hear complaints such as these quite often in my coaching business. A client might blame others for being rude, overly ambitious, or thoughtless. Unfortunately, I have to explain that the problem isn’t other people — it’s the client himself.

There’s a simple explanation: All day, every day, we telegraph information about ourselves without speaking. Our body language and movements have a huge impact on the way others perceive us, interact with us, and defer to us.

The good news is that awareness is the first step to claiming your power as a memorable, compelling person. Here are five common mistakes that may be holding you back (and how to fix them).

Problem: You make yourself small. Shy or introverted people have a tendency to compress upon themselves by crossing their arms or legs, slouching, or folding themselves inward. It’s a look that instantly communicates powerlessness and disinterest. Solution: Untangle yourself by uncrossing your arms and legs and standing up straight. If you’re in conversation, keep your feet pointed toward the person with whom you are speaking — yes, even your feet can be a telltale sign of nervousness or inattention!

Problem: You avoid eye contact. We often associate a lack of eye contact with dishonesty, but studies have shown that’s not the case. What wandering eyes do indicate, however, is a deficit of self-esteem or interest. The body language expert Janine Driver sums it up this way: If you’re not making eye contact, you’re not connecting. Solution: Give your full attention to the person with whom you’re speaking. If you’re in a crowded room, don’t allow your eyes to dart around — and, above all, never look over the person’s shoulder to see what’s happening around you.

Problem: You hide your thumbs. This small detail can make you seem as if you lack confidence. Humans give an awful lot of importance to hands when making decisions — there is a reason why those of us who are public speaking coaches focus on hand and arm gestures so often! Hiding your hands underneath a table or simply tucking your thumbs can indicate uneasiness and low self-esteem. Solution: Adopt a classic power pose instead: Steeple your fingers together to indicate a subtle display of power (and no, you won’t look like a James Bond villain).

Problem: You don’t physically prepare before meeting other people. I don’t have to tell you that life does not always go according to plan: We hit traffic, we feel underprepared, we’re put on the spot during an important meeting. But you can beat back stress and reclaim your power in just a few minutes. Solution: Amy Cuddy, a Harvard researcher, rose to fame with her claim that power posing — leaning back with your hands behind your head — could lower cortisol and make people feel more confident. Her study was lauded, then shunned, and then validated once again. The science behind power posing might be controversial; however, if it makes you feel more powerful, you will be more powerful. If power posing isn’t right for you, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and lower your heart rate. It will instantaneously make you feel more centered and calm.

Problem: You visibly let others get to you. One of the easiest ways to give away your power is to meet anger with angry body language — pursed lips, tense shoulders, scowling, and clenched fists. You might have learned from experience that one of the best ways to disarm a bully is to ignore him or her, or to simply not react. The same goes for an angry colleague. Solution: This fascinating article about German Chancellor Angela Merkel delves into why she has managed to stay poised while dealing with so many posturing, power-hungry world leaders. The short answer is that an angry person will always collapse of her own volition, while the person who maintains composure remains standing. To retain your power, stay calm while the other person flails.

How do you project personal strength and confidence? Have you transformed your body language? Has it paid off? Let me know in the comments below.


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