One of the issues I am struggling with in my year-long commitment to embrace vulnerability in an attempt to live a more authentic life, is the feeling that I should relinquish control and power in many of my interactions. For me, vulnerability does not entail aggressiveness and attempts at dominance, but rather aims to approach relationships based on equality and co-operation. No matter how noble that sounds in theory, putting it into practice in the “real world” is another matter entirely.
Many of the interactions I have throughout the day would be sabotaged were I to appear weak or overly vulnerable. A few days ago I watched a Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy on the role of Body Language. Most of us are well aware that body language speaks volumes in terms of how others interpret our social, psychological, and spiritual comfort level. As a teacher, I can easily gauge my students’ mental state by their posture and body signals. Working with immigrants from around the world, I’m well aware of subtle and sometimes great differences in the signals that students transmit via their body language, and their reactions to my body language in turn.
What is so fascinating about Amy Cuddy’s work is her theory about how we can manipulate our body language to not only change others’ perception of us but also change our own state of being. Cuddy proposes that we can undergo drastic physiological and psychological change by adopting a power pose for 2 minutes periodically throughout the day, and especially before an important meeting, interview, or presentation. One of the power poses is affectionally coined the “Wonder Woman Pose”, whereby you stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your waist with your elbows straight out. Keep your chin up and inhale deeply. By adopting this simple pose, our body creates a 20% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. Research as shown that we not only look more powerful but also appear more powerful. When we appear confident and powerful, people are more likely to hear our message, and therefore, an element of trust is instilled in the relationship or communication.
Now here’s the “sticky” part. No one appreciates it when we come in guns a blazing and try to dominate every interaction through power. Cuddy is suggesting that these “power poses” be incorporated prior to the interaction but not during the interaction. The premise is that by releasing your fears and inhibitions before the interaction, you can allow your vulnerability to surface during the interaction. This will act as a conduit for your relationships to operate on a more authentic and fruitful level. The key is to engage in body language that is warm and inviting, such as making direct eye contact and avoiding slouching and making ourselves small.
I had the opportunity to try this today before entering a potentially confrontational meeting with a supervisor. I went to a quiet area and adopted the power pose for 2 minutes, and then went into the meeting feeling powerful and confident in my mind but not aggressive and confrontational like some in-your-face Alpha male. I'm not really sure how it works, but I did feel more empowered when I entered the room, and this allowed me to express what I needed. My vulnerability flowed through my words, thus engaging my supervisor in an authentic conversation in which I didn’t feel weakness but strength in my resolve. I think I just may be a convert to this body language theory. Now, who can tell me where I can buy a sparkly Wonder Woman costume?