Speaking Volumes without Saying a Word

Throughout my life, my parents (and my paternal grandmother, Mema, in particular) have always taught my sister and me to ‘stand tall’. As far back as I can remember, Mema was always putting her finger in between my sister’s and my shoulder blades instructing us to “stand up, sit up….don’t slouch”. When times were tough due to petty ‘mean girls’ or the disappointments which are present as we go through junior high, high school and college, the adage was always ‘chin up, shoulders back’.

And when we needed to stand up for ourselves in our later years and in our career progression, the directive from my momma, as only a down to earth southern lady (with a steel backbone) could say: “Kristin, you need to rise up on your hind legs.” And yes, that meant – be strong, forthright, and confident……always nice, polite, and kind – yet not weak when we knew our stance or position was ethically and morally right.

That advice has served us well; and now, there are many professional speakers and writers building brands on that most basic, homespun, and very simplistic perspective. In fact, a few such as Amy Cuddy, have done scientific research and developed a global reputation around the power of body position and the effect it has on our lives and careers. The reality is that our body posture effects not only other’s perspectives of us – yet, it absolutely informs and creates our own ‘self-evaluation’ and perspective, as well.

With that as a backdrop, I wanted to offer a few very simplistic tips to integrate into our daily lives and how we meet the world. And no, this is not hocus pocus, mumbo jumbo. It is real. It does have an effect on others’ opinions and impressions of us AND more importantly – it does indeed factor into our own self-evaluation and the reality we are creating for ourselves.

  1. Corners up. This two-word instruction was given to my sister and me when we were unhappy about anything…..from losing Humpty Dumpty on a road trip when I was 8 years old to losing a large deal we were pursuing in my first corporate job. We were simply not ‘allowed’ to pout or frown for long due to any disappointment, hurdle, hurt feelings, or rejection. Of course our parents were (and are) loving, supportive, and empathetic teachers and role models; however, we were not allowed to host ongoing ‘pity parties’. This was a tremendous lesson for us in our formative years – and I can speak for myself, it continues to benefit my approach and attitude in life. When we SMILE (whether we are truly happy or trying to put on our ‘game, happy face’) our entire posture, attitude, and energy changes. It lifts. And that positive attitude is contagious. Try it: when you walk down the hall in your corporate office or when you walk into a store, smile and say hello to folks – even if you may/may not feel like it. When we smile – folks will smile back (most of the time) and amazingly YOU will feel your spirits lift and YES you will become more joyful!
  2. Stand tall – literally and figuratively. The wisdom of previous generations prevails again. When we feel downtrodden (and let’s face it – everyone does as one point or another), when we thrust our shoulders back, suck in our tummies, and stand up straight with our chins up – we FEEL stronger. And, of course, we look more confident and comfortable in our own skins. This does not mean walking like a soldier or sticking our chests out with false bravado. What it does mean is holding our strength within our core, and knowing (and showing) that strength.
  3. Fill a room. Now, I do not mean being loud, boisterous, and self-absorbed. What I do mean is to walk into a room and fill it with your presence – with quiet confidence. This means when we speak – we are demonstrative with strong arms, erect backs, and an openness which can only come from an inner peace and certainty in who you are and what you believe. I have made it an amateur routine to observe public speakers and their best practices. It is interesting. The ones that stretch their arms wide, speak and use their bodies in strong LARGE movements – their power, and strength is palpable. It is not just their voice and words that impact – it is their body posture which conveys confidence, conviction, and passion. And THOSE qualities ‘sell’ their message and their audience. We can embrace the same approach in all our interactions. In our first impressions, our interviews, our important executive presentations, etc. we can believe in ourselves and our message and convey this not only in our words – in our body postures. Strong handshakes. Direct eye contact. Good erect posture – sitting or standing. It conveys a ‘comfort in our own skins’ and NOTHING is more attractive and compelling. Strong posture is POWER.
  4. Be sincerely and authentically interested in others. We have all been in a conversation where we feel the other person is literally marking time until they can speak again – as they believe what they have to offer or share is WAY more important than what we are sharing. Newsflash: that is not the way to ‘win friends and influence people’. My father has always said (and yes, at times this can be hard to believe), that if ‘we see it – everyone else probably sees it too’. There have been countless times where things have happened and I believe I am the only one that observed them. I was so wrong. Folks do see things – even if no one mentions it to you. So – net: our body posture is being watched – as are ALL our actions. Showing and being interested (or not) in others – by thought, word, deed, and action is being seen and judged.

Net: how we ‘show up’ makes a difference. How we move our bodies – even if we have to practice it before it becomes habit – will 100% effect how powerful we feel AND how powerful we are perceived. The tweaks are basic, and very straightforward. The difference is revealed by those who CHOOSE to stand tall and make their bodies strong and large (figuratively). When we choose to show this strength and ‘dominance’ (just like other animals and primates – think gorillas) we not only are perceived as powerful – we become what we have embraced.