How to harness your body language – and approach sales with power

2 min read

What does your body language communicate in sales situations? Are you coming across in a confident, captivating way? Or is your non-verbal expression giving your power away?

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School is renowned for her research on stereotypes and discrimination, emotions, power and non-verbal behavior.

She is also known the world over for her TED talk, Your body language shapes who you are. Her advice provides an antidote to the doubts and insecurities that all salespeople experience at some point in their career.

No matter how well rehearsed your pitch is when you get to your sales call, your prospect can adopt the position of power – or your body language can let you down. To avoid this happening, Cuddy outlines concrete steps to manage non-verbal expression in situations of power and domination.

Sociologists have long studied the effects of our body language. Cuddy says we are quick to communicate judgement and inferences according to posture, gestures, or tone of voice. Which in turn can influence important outcomes in business, such as who we hire or promote.

When we feel powerful, we use expansive gestures to make ourselves big and demonstrate our pride. If we feel powerless on the other hand, we do the exact opposite and close in on ourselves, making ourselves smaller.

And when power meets inferiority? According to Cuddy we tend to complement, not mirror, the other person’s body language. If the other person adopts a position of power, our instinct is to make ourselves smaller. We don’t imitate – we do the opposite. Sound familiar?

Our bodies affect our minds, our minds affect our behavior and our behavior affects outcomes.

Our non-verbal expression governs how we see ourselves – and how other people see us. It can change the way we think, and the image we project. If you’re preparing a pitch to sell a product or service, the content is actually secondary. The success or failure of the meeting depends on your presence and level of confidence – and how that comes across.

But here’s the most interesting part. Amy Cuddy believes you can “fake it till you make it”, that simulating an emotion can lead to actually feeling it. In other words, we can train ourselves to assume the position of power and feel that power. And consequently, act more confidently.

Here’s how.

If you want to strengthen your self-esteem and boost your self-confidence (to sell an idea in an incredibly persuasive way, for example), find somewhere private and assume a power position for 2 minutes before taking action. E.g. raise your arms as if you’ve just won a race, or stand with hands on hips and legs slightly apart. If you make this part of your personal routine and practice it regularly, what is actually a small gesture can lead to a significant life change.

The secret is to coach yourself: practice the two-minute power pose and configure your brain so that when you have the opportunity to close a deal, you’ll take full advantage of the situation.

According to Cuddy it doesn’t matter if you’re shy or insecure – you can win over your customers as well as top salespeople. You just need practice.  If you’re not comfortable speaking in public, if you see that the other person is trying to gain ground or if you go blank (it’s happened to us all!), try to internalize the confidence you feel in the power pose.