Perfecting Your Posture
So here’s the deal with posture and confidence: the taller and wider you make yourself appear, the more people will stand back and say (if to no one but themselves), “Wow, that woman’s capable of protecting herself and looking out for those around her—why, I’ll bet she’d make a great [insert position of authority here]!”
Now, some people are very doubtful that posture has much effect on their everyday lives; they believe that looks and intelligence come into play far more often, and that may be true in some environments. However, most people aren’t supermodel beautiful, and most people aren’t Einstein-level brilliant.
In fact, most people are pretty average, and yet plenty of average people find themselves in amazing circumstances. So what propels some average people ahead of others? Attitude and confidence—both of which can be displayed in your posture.
If you see an animal standing trying to make itself look as large as possible—as when a bear or a horse stands on its hind legs—get out of the way! This posture means the animal is feeling threatened and is ready to attack.
Linking Posture to Animals
Posturing is linked to the animal kingdom. I know, you’re thinking, “I don’t ever recall seeing a squirrel holding his head up high and forcing his shoulders back so that he could be promoted to Head Nut Counter.” Well, you may be right, but remember: animals have more serious concerns than earning titles—their main day-to-day worry is survival. And yes, nut gathering may fall into that category, but a more pressing issue is the age-old competition of predator versus prey.
Take a situation as simple as a dog terrorizing a cat. Since the dog is probably the larger animal, the cat is the animal in danger. As such, it can do one of two things—it can fight or try to escape. If you’ve ever seen a fearless cat in this situation, you’ll notice that it does everything it can to make itself look bigger: It’ll raise its haunches, and it might even stand up on its back legs as it prepares for battle. If the dog is on the timid side, it might decide that this cat isn’t worth the trouble and retreat.
On the other hand, something very interesting happens in the moments when an animal realizes it’s being hunted. If the animal instinctually knows that it can’t win and it can’t escape the situation, it will try to avoid being seen by the predator. A cat, for example, might curl itself up and sit very still until the dog passes by. However, if the dog comes too close for comfort, it’s going to become well acquainted with a set of sharp kitty-cat claws.
Animals try to maintain a “critical distance,” or safety zone, between themselves and predators. (Think of it as an animal’s personal space.) If a perceived threat, animal or human, enters into this zone, the animal will attack. This is why it’s important to keep a healthy distance between yourself and animals you don’t know.
Interesting insight into the animal world, yes? Humans generally do the same things with their posture, and while much of it is based on instinct, there’s no rule that says you can’t work on changing the way you carry yourself so that you don’t look like prey.
Posture in the Real World
All right, cats and dogs are interesting enough, but let’s take this posturing business and put it in a human setting. Let’s say you have a couple of coworkers whom you’re observing: There’s Joe, who has a very high opinion of himself, and Kevin, who tries to stay out of everyone’s way. Joe isn’t the biggest guy in the world—he’s well under six feet—but the only word you can think of to describe his walk is a swagger. This guy exudes confidence. No one messes with him. Whatever he says goes.
Kevin, on the other hand, is taller than Joe, but you’d only notice this if you really looked. This is because Kevin’s posture is all pulled in—he slouches when he walks and stands and his arms are always close to his side or actually in front of his body. You’re not sure if he’s a very skinny person or if the way he carries himself just makes him look tiny.
Well, one day Joe and Kevin go head to head over some project they’re working on. You can see them engaged in a heated discussion: Joe is standing with his feet planted far apart, his hands on his hips, his head level to the ground. For good measure, he throws his hands out to the side once in a while. Kevin, on the other hand, is standing with his arms tightly crossed over his chest, his legs crossed and his head angled toward the ground. You can clearly see now that Kevin is a good six inches taller than Joe, but if this were a fistfight, you’d put every penny you have on Joe.
Note that Joe is using fairly common gestures and postures. He’s staking out his territory, making himself appear as large as possible so that everyone around him understands that he is not to be messed with. Meanwhile, Kevin is responding by trying to make himself as small as possible, either to hide or protect himself from Joe, who will inevitably win this argument and get exactly what he wants.
When you see a situation like this, it’s obvious—to the viewer—that if the timid person would just learn to posture himself correctly, he would be at least on equal footing with his nemesis. So if you have a Kevin in your life, give him a few pointers on literally standing up for himself. Both of you may be surprised by the results.
Here’s one more secret to a successful stance: don’t cross your legs. You might find it difficult to envision someone standing with his legs crossed (unless he’s also hopping to the bathroom), but women, in particular, sometimes stand with their legs crossed at the ankles. Men may lean on the wall to cross their legs as they’re speaking with someone.
Crossing your legs when you stand is a definite nonthreatening move. It’s coy; it’s casual; and it’s fine—as long as the conversation you’re having is coy and/or casual. But if you’re gearing up for an argument that’s going to go down in history as the knock-down, drag-out battle of that particular year, you’d be wise to position yourself with your feet about hip-width apart.