Body Language in the Workplace
Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School professor and social scientist, gave a TED talk about how simply mimicking a position of power (e.g. hands on hips, chest out and chin up) in front of the mirror will make your brain naturally boost its levels of testosterone and cortisol, hormones that make you feel powerful and stress free. It’s another manifestation of the “Fake it ‘til you make it!” adage. Or, according to Cuddy, “Fake it ‘til you become it!” in her TED lecture on the way body language impacts an individual’s success.
This mantra, “Fake it ‘til you make it!”, is a very American approach to life (do people say this in other parts of the world?). Pretending to know how to do the job, pretending to know what you’re talking about and pretending to be successful are all encouraged by this mantra. The idea is that you’ll eventually be successful, and it you put your mind to it, you can attain your goals. Your presence, confidence, appearance and body language will help you “fake it” and subsequently “make it” -- or succeed.
In the US, speaking and actively contributing thoughts and ideas during meetings, or taking quick action in general, are highly valued, even if what you have to say or do isn’t perfect or substantially valuable. Americans interpret this as a sign of engagement, interest and an enthusiasm for collaboration. These behaviors are all signs of a strong individual in American business culture.
Conversely, silence and a slower call to action can be seen as a lack of interest and engagement. Doing business globally reminds us that there are cultures in the world where this approach is the norm: where people hold to a careful, deductive research process where conclusions (and statements) are not made until research and planning proves any given path will be successful. This is often the norm when cultural norms around aversion to making mistakes and an even greater aversion to failure exist. Of course, there is no right or wrong approach, but how do we adapt and adjust to the global workplace when both norms exist side by side?
Cuddy’s research into how body posture influences our perception of others and even ourselves is also relevant when it comes to interactions across cultures. In situations where we might be slightly uncomfortable, challenged by a new country, culture and/or language, it’s important to understand how our partners and colleagues from other cultures perceive our body language. Observing posture and physical gestures can help reveal the subtle dynamics of what’s occurring in a meeting or interaction — who’s feeling confident, who might be on edge and how does body language change when the boss enters the room?
What are your thoughts about how body language changes from culture to culture? What have you experienced?