You have a big job interview. You’ve workshopped your answers to common interview questions, carefully reviewed your resume, and researched the company. You even left the house 15 minutes early to avoid delays.
You still feel nervous — which is normal. Even the most accomplished candidate might worry about giving a bad job interview. But the jitters can make you uneasy, and you’d rather walk in feeling calm and collected.
There’s a potential solution: power poses. Before you enter the room, find a private spot and try standing with your hands on your hips like a superhero. Or, once you’re inside, try leaning back and relaxing your shoulders.
These postures won’t cure your nerves, but they do have the potential to boost your confidence and help others perceive you as more self-assured.
But what are power poses, and do they really work? Understanding nonverbal communication and the ways humans perceive one another won’t just help you nail an interview. It can improve your self-esteem and help you rise to challenges, both at work and in life.
What are power poses, and how do they affect perception?
Power poses are open, expansive postures that use body language to express power, confidence, and assertiveness.
Widened body posture and claiming physical space is a natural nonverbal method of communication that humans use to assert themselves. Consciously standing or sitting in an open posture harnesses that communication to help you feel more confident — and prove it to the people around you.
When people contract into low-power poses, like hunching over or crossing their arms, others interpret them as submissive or inferior. That means making yourself small could signal that you lack self-confidence or don’t hold your own.
Reading body language helps you assess a person’s intentions or read between the lines of a conversation. You spend less than a second judging another person’s character, which includes what someone’s wearing, their facial expression, and their stance. And if an otherwise self-assured person is expressing closed-off body language, your implicit bias could judge them incorrectly.
People’s first impressions of you play an important role in your career growth. Appearing more confident can help you land a new client, convince a hiring manager that you’re the right candidate, or persuade coworkers to adopt your new idea. Adjusting your body language could help you get there.
Regardless of how you’re feeling in a given moment, pay attention to the nonverbal messaging you’re sharing with the people around you. Learning to stand like a powerful person might help you appear — and feel — more confident.
The origins of the power posing theory
Social psychologist and Harvard Business School associate professor Amy Cuddy popularized her power-posing theory in a viral speech at the 2012 Global TED Talk.
In her talk, Cuddy discusses how high-power and low-power poses cause people to judge someone’s character. But she takes the idea a step further. Cuddy posits that body positions don’t only impact the way others perceive you. They also stimulate hormonal changes and have measurable positive effects on how people perceive themselves.
To test her hypothesis, Cuddy conducted a study on the effects of brief nonverbal displays. A test group of 42 people sustained high or low-power poses alone in a room before doing a simulated job interview.
The study found that high-power poses increase testosterone levels and decrease cortisol, a stress hormone. Participants had stronger feelings of power, were more likely to take risks, and felt less stressed. And low-power poses had the opposite effect on hormone levels and mood.
In the simulated interview, leaders perceived the test subjects who practiced high-power poses as more enthusiastic and charismatic. And they considered test subjects who practiced low-power poses to be less desirable candidates.
Do power poses work?
The short answer is: it’s complicated.
In the years since Cuddy’s theory went viral, no other studies have asserted her claims, and many have found that power poses likely won’t affect your hormones or behaviors.
But these findings concern power poses themselves, not body language as a general communication method. Social psychologists have long proven the foundation of the theory that body posture influences behavior and perception. In social science, embodied cognition refers to this theory, in which body posture and movements affect your cognitive state.
Facial expressions like smiling or frowning, managing your voice, and controlling your breathing and posture can influence various emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. And your bodily expressions are contagious — smiling in particular. The way you present yourself does affect your feelings and those of the people around you.
As for power posing, a meta-analysis from the Association for Psychological Science pooled together 73 power pose research reports to analyze the truths and falsehoods of Cuddy’s original study.
The analysis found that postural feedback was stronger in the absence of low-power poses than in the use of high-power poses. This means that contractive poses, like a hunched-over stance, have a stronger effect on your mood and behavior. Avoiding these positions is more important than posing in powerful ones.
So, while successive studies of Cuddy’s theory couldn’t conclusively support that high-power poses produced hormonal changes, your body language does impact how you feel.
Use power poses as a tool to develop self-awareness about your body posture and keep you from slipping into contractive poses. You can pair conscious body language with other methods to decrease stress, like positive affirmations to overcome self-doubt.
6 power poses to practice
You won’t know how power poses will make you feel until you try them. Next time you’re in a stressful situation, like an important presentation or job interview, try adjusting your body language and seeing how it affects your mood or the people around you.
Here are six power pose examples to develop a better awareness of your body language in the workplace:
1. “The Victory Pose”
You’ve probably instinctively popped into a victory pose to celebrate an exciting accomplishment. Imagine acing a professional exam you spent months studying for, landing your dream job, or making a big sale. Raising your hands or fists above your head in a “V” shape is a natural show of excitement.
You probably don’t want to sit in an interview or spend a whole public speaking engagement doing a victory pose. But standing in one beforehand and visualizing your success can give you the self-assurance to step into your personal power.
2. “The Wonder Woman”
If you’ve heard of power poses, you’ve probably heard of this one: “The Wonder Woman.” It’s a superhero pose: stand up straight, tilt your chin upward, and put your hands on your sides. Try doing it in front of a mirror and see how it makes you feel.
You can also use elements of this pose in real-life situations. Imagine you’re in the breakroom, and your boss walks in and asks you how your day’s going. It’s easy to get stuck overthinking and start fidgeting anxiously. Remembering to sit up straight instead of hunching over can help you respond with confidence.
3. “The Obama”
President Barack Obama was well-known for his controlled movements and rounded, wide gestures, and this power pose mimics his open, relaxed attitude.
“The Obama” requires you to put your feet on your desk and lean back with your hands behind your head. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t do this in the middle of a group meeting or on someone else’s desk — you’ll seem more arrogant than confident.
Instead, if you’re taking an important call, for example, use this technique to overcome phone anxiety. The person you’re talking to won’t see you, but you can still feel the effects of the pose.
4. “The Loomer”
As you’re wrapping up a presentation or negotiation, “The Loomer” can capture everyone’s attention. While you’re delivering your closing remark or best offer, lean forward and support yourself on a table or other surface. If your audience is sitting, it brings you closer to them and shows you’re in command and confident of your work.
5. “The Salutation”
If you want to feel the power of taking up space, “The Salutation” does just that. Firmly plant your feet, puff out your chest, lift your chin up, and stretch your arms as wide as you can with your palms facing the sky.
Try “The Salutation” out in a sunny corner of the office or a quiet, private space. Pair it with some mindful breathing. If you’re feeling the effects of stress on your body, this pose will open you up and help you feel less tense.
6. “The Vanna White”
Vanna White is a Wheel of Fortune co-host, known for her wide, rounded gestures toward letters on the board. “The Vanna White” applies this gesture wherever you need it: to deliver a speech, emphasize a slide during a presentation, or point to someone in the room.
Use “The Vanna White” to express confidence toward something you want to call attention to. Even if you feel nervous about a presentation, your gestures will show that you’re engaged and excited about what you’re discussing.
Rise to the challenge
Find new ways to make yourself feel confident and self-assured about your knowledge, skills, and capabilities. Everyone needs a boost of self-esteem from time to time, and power poses can help your body language express your confidence.
Whether you do a power pose before an interview or to deliver a more convincing work presentation, try a few options and see what sticks. It might feel silly at first, but it’s worth a try.