Women in Tech Series: Body Language Tips that Will Boost Your Career

Devon-McDonald by

Here’s one of the weirdest intros you’re likely to read in a sales and marketing blog: Pause for a moment and take a look at your posture.

No, really. Look at how you’re sitting or standing. Are you hunched over with your chin resting on your palm? Or maybe you’re kicked back on a chair or a couch somewhere, your feet crossed and neck craned toward the screen. Are your arms folded, or are your hands in your pockets? Is there a perplexed look on your face?

Crazy as it might sound, your body language (yes, even while you’re reading a blog post) could say a lot about who you are, how you operate, and how people view you.

In fact, in a recent Ted Talk, Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy suggests that body language and posture (or, what Cuddy likes to call “non-verbal communication”) can play a significant role in shaping not only how others see us, but also how we value ourselves.

According to Cuddy’s research, non-verbal communication and what she refers to as “power posing” — the combination of confident posture and body movement, even when we don’t feel confident — can influence testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain and, in some ways, actually affect the likelihood of our success.

How is that possible? Aside from the impact on how people perceive your leadership skills, Cuddy points out that hormonal levels can impact decision making and risk tolerance. And as most women in tech can attest, both of those things are critically important to career trajectory.

3 Questions that Will Make You More Self-Aware of Your Body Language

So, now that you’re sitting up straight and striking a “power pose” at your computer, what else can you do to improve your body language on a day-to-day basis?

In this post for the Harvard Business Review, entrepreneur and business professor Charalambos Vlachoutsicos suggests asking yourself a few questions throughout the day to keep tabs on the mostly unconscious behaviors that influence body language:

  • Am I hungry (or too jacked up on coffee)? As inane as that sounds, eating too much or too little can impact your physical and emotional states. The more you monitor your diet and energy levels, the better your chances are of keeping your body language in check. Also, as Vlachoutsicos points out, be wary of drinking too much coffee. Being too fidgety or shifty can make you appear disinterested or unfocused.
  • Am I prepared? Preparedness and expertise breeds confidence. And confidence almost always leads you to conveying strong body language and posture. On the flip side, if you’re not well-informed or you haven’t done your homework, then any self-doubt will likely be amplified by your actions.
  • Am I smiling? As Inc.’s Jeff Haden points out in this post, frowning or grimacing sends signals to your brain that let it know you’re struggling with something. In turn, your brain responds by dispensing hormones that raise your stress level and negatively impact your body language. So, even when you’re stressed out or frustrated, try to force a smile. It’ll calm your body down and convey confidence to others.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

Seems simple enough, right?

The bottom line is that people — consciously or not — pay attention to body language and non-verbal cues. If you look bored or disinterested (even if you’re not), it will negatively shape how others view your commitment and passion. If you stand up straight, smile, and convey confidence, the opposite may be true.

Now, I’m not saying that you’ll always be interested or confident in everything you do at work. But as Cuddy points out in the video, your best bet is to “fake it until you become it.”

To watch the full Ted Talk and see visualizations of Cuddy’s “power poses,” check out this post on the Ted blog. And if you have any thoughts to share on the power of body language (or if you disagree with this premise entirely), I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

 Photo by: Mikhail Chekmezov