Psst! Science Says You're Talking Wrong

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In her bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg offers advice that has since become a banner around which working moms can rally: Sit at the table.

Sure, this is a great metaphor for grabbing your career by the horns and believing your own worth, but Sandberg actually meant it. Literally.

As in: Lift hindquarters from chair, move legs across room, and sit in new, closer, more powerful chair. Then act like you belong there.

She was tired, you see, of women being sidelined because of a doe-eyed belief that they ought to remain at the back of the room. She realized what social psychologists have now proven many times over: Your words and actions have major bearing on the respect you receive.

A new study appearing in July’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, helmed by Cheryl J. Wakslak, Pamela K. Smith and Albert Han, finds that abstract language creates the impression of power. Specifically, people perceive those who speak broadly in scope as possessing more power than those who focus on details.

This is due to the impression that those who purvey larger ideas have more within their sphere of influence. They are also more willing to make judgments, an attribute powerful people are expected to do. Judgments, in turn, more often accompany abstract statements than more limited, concrete ones.

Amy Cuddy has made a career out of proving that your body language matters. In her TED Talk, for instance, she explains that wide-open poses that make our bodies larger exude dominance. Smaller, closed-off positions, such as crossing our arms or curling into a ball, send the opposite message.

But here’s the weird part: It doesn’t only work on other people. By adopting a wide stance and throwing our arms out, for instance, we can convince ourselves of our greater importance. “Power posing” for only a few minutes before a big presentation or interview can actually affect hormone levels and increase confidence.

Since the impressions we make on others dictates so much of our success in life – snagging the date, getting the job, landing the interview – any trick that artificially inflates those impressions is a good one.

So sit closer. Stand taller. And when speaking, cast a wide net: Big picture is your new best friend. 

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