The Most Important Body Language Signal for Success

The next time you go into a situation in which you want to project your most positive, confident self, start by standing up straight, pulling your shoulders back and holding your head high.

I see it all the time. When audience members find out that I’m at their meeting to speak about body language, everyone does the same thing: they change their posture. They hold their head higher, pull their shoulders back and tighten their abdominal muscles.

In doing so, they are transformed, instantly looking more confident, energized, and healthier. And they remain that way . . . for about 60 seconds. That’s how long it takes most people to relax back into their usual way of sitting or standing. And “usual” for too many of us is the result of old injuries or current bad habits from activities like sitting hunched over our smart phones or computers with shoulders rounded and head pushed forward — which over time makes it feel normal to hold our bodies improperly.

While there are numerous studies that relate good posture to health, I know that posture is also crucial to performance and career success. Without a state of balance in the body (which is my definition of perfect posture) people aren’t able to reach their full potential in any business activity – and certainly not in leadership.

Posture also affects how people perceive you. Just as someone with good posture sends positive nonverbal signals, a person with poor body posture appears uninterested, uncertain, or lethargic — which is not the impression that any of us want to project.


Posture affects confidence in our own opinions and abilities.

An Ohio State University study found that people who sat up straight were more likely to believe what they wrote down concerning their qualifications for a job. On the other hand, those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept their own written-down statements as valid.


Good posture makes you resilient.

You know that the way you feel affects your body. (If you are reluctant or depressed, you tend to round your shoulders, slump, and look down. If you are upbeat you tend to hold yourself erect and expand your chest.) But did you know that the reverse is also true? Your choice of posture has a powerful impact on your emotions.

A joint study by the USC Marshall School of Business, and J.L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, found that by simply adopting more dominant poses (open and expansive posture), people felt in control and were able to tolerate more physical pain and emotional distress.


Expansive postures can make you feel powerful.

Research from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, discovered that “posture expansiveness,” positioning oneself in a way that opens up the body and takes up space, activated a sense of power that produced behavioral changes in a person independent of their actual rank or role in an organization. In fact, it was consistently found across three studies that posture mattered more than hierarchy in making a person think and act in a more powerful way.

If you stand you will look more powerful and assured to those who are seated. If you move around, the additional space you take up adds to that impression. If you are sitting, you can look more confident by putting both feet flat on the floor, widening your arms away from your body (or hooking one elbow on the back of your chair), and spreading out your belongings on the conference table to claim more territory.

We know instinctively which nonverbal signal is the most crucial to make a great impression. When we improve our posture — through attention, reformed habits or exercises, we display more energy, resilience, and confidence. So the next time you go into a situation in which you want to project your most positive, confident self, start by standing up straight, pulling your shoulders back and holding your head high. Just by assuming this physical posture, you will begin to feel surer of yourself. Basically, you will look and feel successful!

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