If you just show enthusiasm , ask questions, and speak authoritatively that's all you'll need to get that job, make the impression in the group, or make a good presentation-according to many career counselors and advisors. Yet an often overlooked factor-good posture-may be an even more powerful force, particularly if the people you are facing are more powerful and influential in the hierarchy.
According to research by the L. Huang and associates, of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and published in Psychological Science, posture plays an important role in determining whether people act as though they are really in charge. The research finds that "posture expansiveness," or positioning oneself in a way that opens up the body and takes up more space, activates a sense of power that produces behavioral changes in a person independent of their actual rank or hierarchical role in an organization.
These new findings demonstrate that posture may be more significant to a person's psychological manifestation of power that their title or rank alone. This research is the first to directly compare the effect on behavior of having a high-power role versus being in a high-power posture. The researchers consistently found across their three studies that posture mattered more than hierarchical role-it had a strong effect in making a person think and act in a more powerful way. In an interview situation, for example, an interviewee's posture will not only convey confidence and leadership but the person will actually think and act more powerfully.
"The December 5, 2005 cover of the New Yorker is a classic example of how indicative posture can be in determining whether people act as though they are in charge," argues Adam Galinsky, Professor of Ethics and Decisions in Management at Kellogg School of Management. "The image depicts the power relationships between former President Bush-shown with an apron, feather duster, and a slouched, constricted posture-while former Vice President Dick Cheney has both arms expansively extended across the back of a sofa, his legs sprawled across a coffee table. When hierarchical role and physical posture diverge like this, posture seems to be more important in determining how people act and think." According to Galinsky, the role of powerful postures is important for those seeking new jobs in 2011.
A study by Richard Petty of Ohio State University, and Pablo Brinol, of the Universidad Automonma de Madrid, and published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, showed that sitting up straight in your chair, isn't just good for your posture, it also gives you more confidence in your own thoughts. The researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture, concerning whether they were qualified for a job. In contrast, those were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept these written feelings about their own qualifications.
"Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people," Petty said, "but it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think bout ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you're in." Petty argued that "sitting up straight is something you can train yourself to do, and it has psychological benefits-as long as you generally have positive thoughts."
So it seems as though a powerful application of body language is posture, particularly when combined with positive thoughts.