Answer honestly now — what message do you think it sends when you spend the workday crouched under your desk?
Yes, I suppose your manager could read your stance as the sign of a highly intelligent, highly cautious employee who is protecting himself from zombie attack, but if certain social scientists are right, you are probably being perceived as a totally passive, totally weird employee who is never going to succeed.
And how do these social scientists know so much about you? They didn’t read your annual reviews, and they didn’t listen to your constant carping in the coffee room. They observed your posture.
In her recent article, “How ‘Power Poses’ Can Help Your Career,” the workplace columnist of The Wall Street Journal Sue Shellenbarger explains why the most important aspect of business success may not be how we work, but how we stand.
And when I say “how we stand,” I certainly don’t mean whether you “take a stand” on your company’s villainous business practices. I am referring to your posture. It’s the same issue that has plagued you since your mother demanded that you “stop slouching and sit up straight” when served a big plate of broccoli.
Did mother know best? In this case, absotively.
As Shellenbarger writes, “New research shows posture has a bigger impact on body and mind than previously believed. Striking a powerful, expansive pose actually changes a person’s hormones and behavior, just as if he or she had real power.”
That’s right, friend. If you can get control of your body, no one will ever know that you absolutely no control over your life at work.
And what are the power poses that can make a poseur look, well, imposing?
“Standing tall and leaning slightly forward with your hands at your sides” is one power-pose that you can easily adopt, especially when you return to work after a two-hour lunch at the Kit Kat Klub. You’re already weaving and heaving, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to lurch forward when you speak with your co-workers. They’ll be impressed by your power posture, and completely intimidated, especially when they smell the Buffalo wings on your breath.
“Leaning forward over a desk with your hands planted firmly on its surface” is another power pose and a useful posture it can be when your post-lunch lurch looks like it’s going to leave you lying face down on the floor. Simply stumble into the nearest conference room and support yourself with both hands on the conference table. You won’t have to say a word and everyone in the meeting will instantly respect you. On the other hand, it could cost your power points when lose your lunch all over the PowerPoint.
Interestingly, science has learned that simply striking a power pose in private can have a positive effect on how you are perceived. “Those who had practiced a power pose before a speech showed lower cortisol and fewer outward signs of stress,” reports Dana Carney, an assistant professor at the Hass School of Business, “such as anxious smiles or biting a lip. Assuming an expansive body position can also increase testosterone.”
I’m not exactly sure what cortisol is, and I’m fairly certain Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t knocking on your office door, hoping to borrow a cup of testosterone, but if all it takes to get your hormones raging is to crawl out from your desk and stand up straight, I say — do it.
Passive postures you want avoid include standing with your arms crossed, since “folding arms in front of the chest suggests defensiveness.” The same goes for sitting with crossed arms and ankles. It “expresses powerless, as if trying to take up as little space as possible.” (Standing with your arms and your ankles crossed also demonstrates you could have a big career in Cirque du Soleil, so get out of that business suit and into your tights, ASAP.)
Finally, you should be aware that “touching the neck, face or hand is a symptom of stress,” according to scientists, “suggesting anxiety or a lack of control.” Since you are anxious and have no control, let me suggest a simple work-around. Apply big fat dabs of superglue to your palms and place them firmly on the nearest conference table. Then stand up and lean forward.
It may be uncomfortable in the days and weeks before the maintenance people arrive with their power saws to detach you from the conference table, but trust me, you’ll definitely be radiating power.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.