As a 5’4 woman who assumed a senior leadership role in my mid-30s, and as a millenial in a profession that skews to the Baby Boomer and more recently Gen X generations, there are many times throughout the work week that I may not feel my most confident self. I’ve been referred to as “that nice young lady,” which granted is better (perhaps) than that cantankerous old lady. I’ve been in the middle of a phone call and the person on the other ends stops the conversation to tell me I sound young- I don’t really think I do. When I first arrived on campus and introduced myself with my title, I’d often hear the sound of surprise from the other person or see a look of surprise on the person’s face. The list goes on. I’m not excusing this behavior. Rather than dwell in the actions and perceptions of others-which would be hard to change- I choose to focus on myself and how I want to assert my best and most confident self.
As a result of my size, age, gender, and leadership role, I think about how I can bring my best and most confident self to work each and every day. For example, if I know I need to have a difficult conversation with someone, or I may be in a situation that I feel uneasy about, I plan what I’ll wear to maximize my internal sense of calm and confidence. We all have our go-to outfits, am I right? Beyond what I’m wearing, I have other strategies I use to bring my best and most confident self to work.
This is the first of a three-part series. Here, I’ll share a bit about power poses. In the second post, I’ll discuss the concept of alter egos, and how they can help build confidence. In the final post, I’ll share how power poses and an alter ego can work together, particularly when they’re prompted by a song cue. For me that song is “Thunder,” by Imagine Dragons, hence the title for this series of posts.
Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk about body language was a game changer for me. Not only did it help me consider how my own body language was impacting the message I want to give others, it also enabled me to take a short-cut when talking to someone else. I can suss out clues about how they’re reacting to something based on their own body language. I call this part of my leadership practice power poses.
The next time you’re talking with someone, keep an eye out for any time they move their hand to their neck. As Cuddy discusses in her talk, we move our hand up to cover our jugular or the area nearby when we feel threatened. Now we may not have a gazelle trying to run us down in academic libraries, however, there are certainly stressful situations that can cause us to feel threatened. I know that someone has strong feelings about something when I see them reach to cover their jugular. Once you start looking, you will too. I don’t share this insight to explain how to go on a power trip and gain an advantage. Rather, I use this clue to probe my colleague and ask more open ended questions to try and elicit what concerns the person has about whatever we’re discussing. When working in an organizational hierarchy, knowing when you’re making others- particularly those below you in the hierarchy- uncomfortable is critically important to fostering relationships based on trust and a growth mindset.
Turning inward, I’ve adapted Cuddy’s techniques to help me prepare for a difficult meeting. I’ll stretch and hold my arms out wide in the 5-10 minutes before the meeting start (finding a private place to do this is key for me).
Getting more oxygen into my lungs by breathing deeply, while stretching calms me down and makes me feel more rooted. Then once I get to the meeting, I try to physically take up more space in the room, than I might otherwise. Again, I’m 5’4 and there are certainly times when my feet dangle and don’t touch the floor, which is not exactly the power pose I’m looking to strike. Instead, I root myself as best I can and stretch one or sometimes two arms out so they’re resting on the back of the chair, rather than in my lap. By putting my hands in my lap, I’m making myself smaller, which then can have an impact on how I view my role in the conversation (and can have a subtle impact on how others perceive me). By taking up more space (and I’m certainly not suggesting you lounge and cross over into someone else’s space), I end up feeling more confident and present in the room.
In part 2, I’ll discuss the concept of alter egos, and how they can help build confidence.
How do you go about bringing your best and most confident self to work?