Change Your Body Language, Change Your Business

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on February 12, 2013

Building trust with vendors and partners, strengthening loyalty among existing customers, and recruiting and retaining employees are all critical to growing your small business. As its owner, you are the face of many — if not all — of these efforts. Purposefully honing your body language can impact how successful you are at them.

Here’s some of the science behind your body language and how to make it work to your advantage.

  • Be aware of the company you keep. In a recent TED talk, Harvard Business School associate professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy notes that dominance and power are communicated with postures that take up a lot of physical space: Limbs are outstretched. The chest is exposed in a proud manner. The chin is held high. In contrast, body language that reduces the space you occupy (crossing arms, hunching, looking down) communicates weakness and uncertainty. Why does this matter in business? As Cuddy explains, we exhibit body language which opposes that of the person with whom we are speaking to balance the interaction. For example, if you’re in a room with a booming personality, you’ll reduce your own energy level — even if you are inherently boisterous, too. While speaking to a person exuding weaker body language, you’ll speak more authoritatively. By understanding the impact others have on the image you project, you can select business partners and employees more strategically. You can also be aware of how you may unintentionally project weakness based on the company you’re keeping at any given time.
  • Boost your confidence with a pose. Cuddy and her research team studied the impact [PDF] that powerful nonverbal body language (“power posing”) has on a person’s own self-confidence and whether those feelings can be manipulated with posture. In the study, researchers separated participants into two groups and tested the testosterone and cortisol (a stress hormone) levels in their saliva. One group was asked to hold power poses, such as putting their hands behind their heads and their feet on a desk, for a total of two minutes. The second group held submissive poses with arms crossed for the same amount of time. Afterward, participants were  given $2 and the option to either keep the cash, or roll a die to either double or lose it. The power-posers reported feelings of greater confidence and chose the risk option more than the submissive posers. Additionally, the power posers were physiologically changed: Their testosterone levels increased, and their cortisol levels decreased. The next time you’re going into a big meeting, strike a power pose; the posture you hold for just two minutes can literally build your confidence from within!
  • Manage your own stress reactions. So, we’ve established that effective leaders who project powerful body language have high testosterone and low cortisol levels. According to Cuddy, these leaders are perceived as effective, in part, because they maintain an even-keeled nature in the face of stress. Just as power posing can boost your confidence, it regulates your stress levels. Instead of boiling over the next time an employee gives you bad news, kick your feet up on the desk, and chill out for one minute; you’ll stimulate an innate ability to reduce stress.
  • Leverage the power of subtle nonverbals. You know that flashing a warm smile to an employee or greeting a client with a firm handshake sets a positive tone, but Cuddy’s research also reveals that your own nonverbal behaviors boost your persuasian skills. For example, nodding your head “yes” when describing an idea or concept you want someone to buy into leads your listener to be more easily persuaded. Smiling at the listener, even in the midst of a tough conversation, can increase favorable responses.