by Jenna McDaniel
Success – in whatever form it might take, and however we define it – is what many of us strive for in life. Education is often the starting point, but it seems like we’re always working towards achieving some degree of success in something. Many of us hope that the success we earn early in life will carry over into our future careers. Doing your best and working hard seem to be ongoing expectations, and yet not everyone is able to translate these efforts into tangible successes. In the workforce, for example, work ethic, presentation, expertise, teamwork, and surprisingly, body language, are all factors that play heavily into our path to success.
Body language can actually be a defining factor in terms of success. We make sweeping judgments based solely on body language. It is, in essence, one of the easiest ways our internal opinions and thoughts are expressed without us even realizing it. In a TED Talk I watched recently, Your body language shapes who you are, Amy Cuddy explains that we are often influenced the most by our non-verbal gestures, another term for body language. It’s hard enough to be a woman in today’s male-dominated business world, continually struggling against age-old problems like the glass ceiling effect and pay inequity. But body language is something that we can control. We can actually reap tremendous benefits from using body language shrewdly. However, it can also be one of our biggest setbacks in climbing business and social ladders. In both settings, if we slip, it can potentially mean the loss of a job or the end of a relationship. In her video, Amy Cuddy states:
“I notice a couple things about this, one, you’re not going to be surprised, it seems to be related to gender.” (6:05)
“Women feel, chronically, less powerful than men.” (6:16)
Julie-Ann Amos from the Body Language Expert, addresses body language differences between men and women. She states that women are generally more likely to display nurturing behaviors, show their emotions, and let their feelings come through. This is especially evident with strong emotions such as intimidation or jealousy. This connects to Cuddy’s TED Talk, when she discusses why men and women seem to routinely hold certain career positions more than the other gender. When our verbals and non-verbals match up, it increases trust, and when they don’t, it generates confusion and even tension. Organization, reliability, and individual effort are only a few of the personal qualities that can make or break opportunities for women in the business world. Facial expressions, body movements, posture, gestures, eye contact, touch, and space are all non-verbal forms of body language that can be giveaways to what we are truly thinking internally, our personal version of life’s truths. Another statement by Amy Cuddy in her video:
“Powerful people tend to be, not surprisingly, more assertive, and more confident, more optimistic; they actually feel that they’re going to win even at games of chance. They also tend to be able to think more abstractly and take more risks, so there are a lot of differences between powerful and powerless people.” (8:26)
Power and authority are commonly held by individuals that display confidence, and are assertive and dominant, not those who are stress-reactive or laid-back. According to Julia-Ann Amos’ article, men are generally more likely to display behaviors of power, dominance, and assertiveness, therefore making it more likely for them to access higher positions of power and authority. It is important to keep in mind that these differences are rather general in nature, and as such, should not be regarded as gateway opportunities to propose sweeping judgments of another gender. Greater awareness, understanding, and patience for those around us might start to address some of those age-old problems mentioned previously. In her video, Amy Cuddy points out potential outcomes for mitigating the effects of a stress-reactive, laid-back persona, starting with our body language:
“Our bodies change our minds… and our minds change our behavior… and our behavior changes our outcomes.” (15:40)
As someone who makes what I’m thinking and feeling very obvious to those around me, I have struggled personally with my own expression of body language. Cuddy’s video clarified that body language is a small part of life with a huge impact. It can be a leading factor in reputation, judgment, opinion, and ultimately, success in all that you do. Cuddy does a great job of clarifying how simple body language is to monitor and change for the possibility of a positive opportunity, which in turn, might lead to success.