Influencing Others: The Power of Body and Voice

Written by on August 6, 2013

“Remember, the thoughts that you think and the statements you make regarding yourself determine your mental attitude. If you have a worthwhile objective, find the one reason why you can achieve it rather than hundreds of reasons why you can’t.” – Napoleon Hill

In a wonderful Ted Talk, Harvard professor and researcher Anne Cuddy describes students in her MBA classes – those who came in and really took up space, and those who came in and seemed to shrink into themselves. Their body language correlated with their grades, half of which were based on participation. Those with open, powerful nonverbal behaviour had higher grades. What if, Cuddy wondered, we could teach people to “fake it” and participate more effectively? Our nonverbal communications determine how others think and feel about us; do they also determine how we see ourselves?

The thoughts and statements we make to ourselves determine our mental attitude. Expanding on this, the way we carry ourselves, the way we position ourselves, and the nonverbal cues we give have the power to change our minds. Our minds influence our body language and more importantly our body language also influences our minds. We sometimes need to have our bodies in a position, for instance, so we can make a bold statement. If you are curled up and hiding in your chair, the statement you are making is not congruent with your posture. Your nonverbal statement is speaking more loudly; it is the one people will listen to.

What is so interesting is that we have this international language. People who win in a competition, for instance, raise their arms in victory, chins slightly uplifted. This is true even for those who were born without sight. They have never seen anyone do this, and yet, when they win, their body responds in this way. We make ourselves bigger. This is what powerful people do: they make themselves bigger. They stand or sit in positions of authority. They simply take up room, both literally and figuratively.

If you have that bold statement to make and you are feeling anything but confident, you can, essentially, fake it. You can fake yourself into having more positive images than negative images. You can’t stay there forever! But you can start in a place that even if you are uncomfortable, you can deliver those statements by thinking about how you are going to position your body. You can build physical confidence until you achieve mental confidence. Then your statements and body are congruent.

Perhaps the most powerful statement in Professor Cuddy’s talk is this: “Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it.” You are not being disingenuous; you are not lying or being deceitful to others or to yourself. You are taking the steps, revising the nonverbals, and changing your mind and its thoughts about you. You are giving yourself one more reason to believe that you can achieve your worthwhile objective.