Change your body, change your mind - and those of the people around you

We've all heard of that quite mind blowing statistic about how communication is not all about words.

Communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal. The non-verbal component was made up of body language (55 percent) and tone of voice (38 percent).
— Professor Mehrabian (paraphrased)

To be clear there is quite a bit of argument as to whether most interpretations of this rule are correct or not, and the context of the two particular studies was really narrow. You can read more here if you are interested.

But the fact remains, that even if these statistics are exaggerated or taken out of context, there is definitely some truth to the matter, or perhaps more relevantly, we can learn from this and turn it into a catalyst for change - in ourselves.

Confidence v's competence

Specifically for the purposes of this article - when we appear confident and capable, people believe we are confident and capable, even if perhaps the actual words we say, or arguments we present aren't that much different to those of others.  Additionally if you say something emphatically and with belief, it will carry more weight than if you pose that same statement with an upward inflection or uncertainty.


In a nutshell - if you look like you know what you are talking about (non verbal cues), then your arguments will carry more weight than the person who appears less confident.  Not only will you be more believable but your social consequence, your likability and your influence will increase.

As you've heard me say before, confidence beats competence when it comes to getting ahead.


The most beautiful thing you can wear is confidence.
— Blake Lively

So how does this apply to you in your job at work?

For years, as women, we've been socialised to believe that doing the right thing, doing things well and doing things properly was the only, and certainly the best, way to get ahead.  But after centuries of doing things right, properly and well, we are still a long way from equal pay and equality in terms of leadership. 

So let's examine a few things that might help us change our minds.

  • Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in their extremely famous May 2014 cover story The Confidence Gap, published in The Atlantic, highlighted some interesting research about social power. They refer to work by researcher Cameron Anderson who is a psychologist who specialises in the study of overconfidence.

In 2009 he conducted some rather unusual test to examine the relationship between confidence and competence.  Without going into too much detail about the experiment (you can read more here)  it was designed to test over confidence.  And you guessed it, the students who faked and guessed their way through a bunch of tests (where the questions were frequently fake anyway) were later rated as having "higher social consequence" or status.  That's it, they were seen as more influential by their peers. 

In fact, according to Anderson, overconfidence can make you far more powerful and persuasive.

When people are confident, when they think they are good at something, regardless of how good they actually are, they display a lot of confident nonverbal and verbal behavior, ............ They do a lot of things that make them look very confident in the eyes of others, .........Whether they are good or not is kind of irrelevant.
— Cameron Anderson

Change your body, change your mind

We've all experienced the power of exercise on a flustered mind or down mood.  Well perhaps there is even more application in changing your body in order to changeyour mind - boost your mood and boost your confidence.

  • Ron Gutman in his March 2011 TED talk on the Hidden Power of Smiling refers to some research that is extremely curious and somewhat buried in the middle of his talk.  The researchers apparently were questioning which came first - the smile or the emotion of happiness.  Miracle upon miracle it would appear that in fact smiling in and of itself (even if it's fake) can actually trigger happiness feelings.   He refers to the pencil test where researchers asked subjects to place a pencil between their teeth to force a smile shape with their mouths.  And the subjects reported to increased feelings of happiness. 

Now it's highly likely that the ludicrous situation of having a pencil placed between your teeth triggered some people to laugh - but the results apparently stand on their own - smiling can and does trigger happiness.  Which comes first - smiling or happiness?  Well perhaps both. Feeling down? Why not smile and see if your mood boosts!

Basically if you adopt powerful postures (hands on hips, hands behind your head, hands raised over your head in a winners pose and all frequently seen as masculine type poses) then you start to feel more powerful.  There are actual chemical/hormonal triggers that occur that create physiological changes in your body to help you feel more confident and powerful. In just two minutes your testosterone (think, decide, act type hormone) boosts by 20% and your cortisol (stress hormone) drops by 25%.   If you haven't seen this talk please head on over as it's great information for anyone with a presentation to give, or an interview to get through - with confidence, grace and ease. 


Fake it til you become it

While we've all heard of the phrase "fake it til you make it", Amy clarifies this deliberately and specifically to draw attention to the very real change that occurs.

Don’t fake it til you make it, fake it til you become it.
— Amy Cuddy
  • You don't just feel happier, you become happier.
  • You don't just feel more powerful, but you become more powerful.
  • You don't just feel more confident, you become more confident.
  • You don't just feel more successful, you become more successful.

So stop .......

  • Stop walking around with your arms folded across your body feeling defensive, because you are only making the situation worse.
  • Stop moaning about how overwhelmed or powerless you are, because you'll not just stay in the overwhelmed and powerless state, but compound it further.
  • Stop using passive language, waiting to be seen and not heard in case you are perceived as a fool,  because you are in fact coming across as less influential, less credible and less persuasive.

You have the power to create your own reality

I'm the first to admit, this sounds a little "woo woo" but with science and neuro-science confirming time and time again, our brain body connection is more than a one way street. We have the ability to change our mental state, our perceived personal power and our ability to influence others with simple changes to our posture and appearance.

In a nutshell, your personal power, your influence and your confidence will increase if you can wear a little more confidence - even if it's not exactly how you feel when you start out. Organisations and governments the world over need more women in the leadership space - so step up, speak out and take charge with confidence - even if it's just the appearance of confidence in the first instance - because it would appear that that's what everyone else else is doing anyway.

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution


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