Deborah Gruenfeld: Power & Influence


People are going to decide if you are
competent or not in less than a hundred milliseconds, and then it’s over. So, I can trace my interest in this topic back to something that happened to me in
the 1980s. Before I was an academic, I worked for a
short time in public relations. And, found myself one day in a meeting at
9 o’ clock in the morning with a very powerful
entertainment industry executive. And he had a little refrigerator at the
edge of his desk. While we were meeting, he would open it
up. Bottle of vodka. Drank vodka straight out of the bottle,
and had a bag of raw onions. He was munching on those while this was
going on. And nobody said anything to him about it. We didn’t react while it was happening. We didn’t talk about it afterwards. He didn’t even offer to share anything
with us. It seemed perfectly appropriate to him to
behave that way in a meeting with us. Would never have occurred to us to do that
in a meeting with him. I want to talk with you about power, and I
want to try to provide a new way of thinking about how to approach situations where you want to have
impact. One of the things that I’ve observed in my
work in this area is that, most people, when they are trying
to prepare for a situation where they want to have influence, going
to a meeting or change somebody’s mind, is they tend to think a lot about
what they’re going to say. That situation. So, I’m going to suggest that rather than
thinking about what you’re going to say in situations like this, you need to think
about what your body is telling people. When people are forming an impression of
you, what you say accounts for only 7% of what they come
away with. [MUSIC] What I’d like to do today is to start
first by telling you a little bit about the actual mechanics of
the body language of power. What are the cues that we send, and what
do they mean? And then I’d like to talk with you about
how you can think about using those different cues to address specific challenges in specific
situations. There is actually a body language of
power. And we know it, but we know it so well
that we don’t know that we know it. It, it’s something that we’ve been
learning through our socialization since a very, very young
age. So, we learn how to tune our bodies to specific situations and specific
relationships. When we need to show someone respect, or
be deferential, we know how to use our body in a way that allows us to be
effective in that role. And we learn how to take charge with our
bodies, and how to make sure other people aren’t
taking advantage of us. Most of us are socialized, you know, over
the course of our lives, based on other people’s expectations of where
they think we should be within, in a hierarchy. And so we learn how to do certain aspects
of this, sort of performance, very well. And other parts we know less well. And sometimes we find ourselves in
situations where the things we do with our bodies that come most naturally
don’t fit the situation at all. So, I wanna raise awareness of the ways in
which we use our bodies, and the impact that it has on our ability
to have power and influence. If you wanna be strategic about acting
with power there are two objectives that you have to keep
in mind. The first one is that you wanna be able to
show up authoritative. In charge, able to make the decisions, and
able to privilege your knowledge and experience over the
knowledge and experience of other people. The same time you need to be able to show
approachable. Which is, open, empathetic, willing to
take others knowledge and experiences into account and be able to relate to people on
a human level. So, let me see if I can start by giving you a framework for thinking about
two main objectives for addressing the set of
questions about how your body language can be used to change
your impact. There are really two things I think you
need to be able to do if you wanna have
influence. The first is, you need to be able to show
up authoritative. Being authoritative means showing up and
letting people know that you’re in charge. And what it involves psychologically and
from a body language perspective, is that you’re
going to be closing yourself off a little bit to other people, you’re privileging your
knowledge and experience. Over and above the knowledge and
experience of other people, you’re becoming more
directive and more concerned with controlling other
people’s behavior than from taking direction from
others. The second objective, and it’s equally
important, is that you need to be able to show up
approachable. Being approachable means that people feel
that they can come to you with whatever is on their mind, and relate to
you on a human level. Being approachable is just as important as
knowing how to show authoritative. It’s really the basis of your likability. It’s the basis of the extent to which
other people want to be close to you, and it requires really, a
totally opposite orientation from showing up authoritative, it really
involves being more open to other people, being prepared psychologically to
relate to them on a human level. And if you think about the challenge of showing up authoritative as increasing the
psychological distance between yourself and other people, either
by raising yourself a little or by lowering others a
little. Being approachable is really about
shrinking the psychological distance between you and
other people. It’s about lowering yourself a little or
raising other people up. So, in the framework that I’m introducing
to you today, which I call acting with power, the body
language associated with showing up authoritative is called
playing high and the body language associated with showing up
approachable is called playing low. [MUSIC] The actions associated with playing high
come from what we observe whenever we look at animals or human beings in the
context of a social hierarchy. When you look at people with, or group
members with high rank, what you’ll see is a general body language that
reflects a state of relaxation. And openness, because at the top of
hierarchy you have nothing to worry about. Everybody beneath you is gonna make sure
that nothing bad ever happens. So, playing high, in a very general sense, will look like a very open, expansive,
relaxed body. When walking, you assume others will move
out of your path, taking up maximum space, and allowing your body and your gestures
to flow into the space of other people. Other actions associated with playing high
include keeping your head perfectly still while
talking. And speaking in complete sentences. So it’s not important when you’re playing
high to have long sentences, in fact, they can be very short but they’ll have a clear
beginning and a clear end point. You’ll also see people, when playing high,
holding eye contact a little longer than normal when
addressing someone else. It’s actually an interesting relationship. I think the idea that staring someone down
is associated with playing high is something most people know, but
actually it’s a little more subtle than that. So, when you’re playing high, you stare
someone down when you’re addressing them. You don’t let them out from under you
gaze. They know you’re serious. But when they’re addressing you, you’re
free to look around, you got other things on your mind, other people
you need to talk to, right? So when you’re being addressed by other
people, you’re free to look away. You don’t check other people’s eyes for
any reaction to what you’ve said, and you have no visual reaction to
what other people say either. And you can interrupt before you know what
you’re gonna say. It’s important to recognize that playing
high is a source of dominance. Other people, in many situations, are
simply more likely to defer just based on how you use your
body. It’s also important to recognize that
playing high can be really dangerous, one of the
easiest ways to get in trouble in a group is to
play higher than your actual rank. So, the most general advice I can give
about when to play high is that you play high to reinforce your actual rank, or in a competitive situation when status is up
for grabs. [MUSIC] Let’s talk about what it looks like to
play low. When you observe natural hierarchies in
groups what you’ll see is that lower ranking
members have a body language that is exactly the
opposite of what playing high looks like. Low ranking members hold their bodies very
close and tight, they try to make themselves as small as they can, minimize
their footprint, and do, sort of prepare themselves to hide from other people or
kind of fend off a blow, so you’ll see a much more an attempt to shrink a little
bit and and hide. So when someone’s playing low, you’ll see them leaning forward and sometimes point
their toes inward, it’s all different ways of making your footprint a little bit
smaller. You’ll see people speak in incomplete
sentences. And when someone’s playing low, you get a
lot of fleeting and jerking movements. Talking with your hands near your face,
and instead of looking directly at someone, a lot more glancing
around and looking away. They’ll talk to to you and just glance
over to make sure that it’s going okay, but there’s no
actual eye contact. When a high status person is addressing a
lower status person that’s when the low status person’s
eyes are riveted. So, one of the other really interesting
differences between people who are higher ranking and lower ranking
in groups, is that you see a lot more smiling from the low
ranking members and it’s not because things are
better at the bottom. Right? People in the lower ranks are smiling
because it’s their job to make sure that the people above them
are never uncomfortable. So they’re not genuine smiles. You get this kind of a fake, apologetic
smile. It’s a badge of appeasement. A way of making sure that people above
them are feeling okay. Playing low is also really important. It’s the basis of building rapport. For a low ranking person, it’s really
important that the people above you know that you understand their
position and respect theirs. Playing low for a high status person
actually makes you more approachable. You can gain status as a high status
person by playing low. So, you’re most likely to be effective
when playing low if you do it to reinforce your actual rank or when
you wanna lift someone else up. [MUSIC] So, the next important question is, how
should you think about using this? And I can tell you that I use it in two
different ways. To make myself more comfortable in
situations where I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to show up the way I want to, and I also use my body language
to help other people feel more comfortable in
situations where I’m worried about that. You can think about using your body
language not to change the way you show up, every day in
every situation. But, as a way of meeting specific kinds of
challenges. When you walk into a situation and
something unexpected happens, people aren’t as receptive as you expected
them to be. You find that you’re being attacked or you
can’t get someone who you thought was gonna be open to open up and tell you
what you need to know. You can think about how to adjust your
body language to try to shift the dynamic in
the relationship. [MUSIC] So, when you look at men and women in leadership roles, what you find is that
men and women don’t actually behave
differently in these roles, they’re perceived entirely differently
doing exactly the same things. So, let me talk to you for a minute about
women in power. And what that means is that, we’re
socialized to use the body language that’s associated with
having a lower rank. This is not necessarily a problem, it just
means that many of us are better versed in that body language than we are
in the body language of playing high. And the socialization has implications for
how women are viewed in different types of
roles. Let me tell you about a study that was conducted by one of my colleagues at
Stanford. He was teaching a case in his MBA class about an entrepreneur from Silicon Valley
named Heidi Roizen. And she was very successful, and he used the case to illustrate how
effectively people can use social networks as a way of really building a business and building a
reputation. When his students read this case, they
were very negative about her, and he was kind of surprised by
that. So, he thought that it might have
something to do with her gender. So, my colleague took the case about Heidi
Roizen and he changed the name of the protagonist to Howard Roizen, and
left all the other details the same. He gave half his students the case about
Heidi. He gave the other half of his students the
case about Howard. Before they came into class they rated
Heidi or Howard on a bunch of different
dimensions. First they were asked how humble and
genuine and likeable was this person. And Howard was the winner of that contest. The second set of questions they were
asked had to do with how self-interested and power
hungry the protagonist was. And it might not surprise you to know that
Heidi won that contest. The female actor was judged much more
harshly for exactly the same behaviors as her male
counterpart. Heidi and Howard where judged as equally
competent, but when asked who they preferred to work with and who they’d rather hire, the students preferred
Howard. So, the reason I talk about this case in
my executive education class is because I think it illustrates a
problem that a lot of women face. We’re being held to these dual
expectations. The expectation associated with our gender
roles require us to behave in the ways that are associated
with playing low. It’s expected of us, and it’s a way that
we can navigate situations where people want us to make them feel good,
because that’s what’s expected of women. We’re also expected, in our organizational
roles, to behave in ways that are authoritative, so we have to
have those tools available to us, and we have to be
able to give ourselves permission to use them,
when the situation requires. But I think one of the interesting
possibilities for women to think about other ways of combining those two different ways of
behaving that allow us to meet both sets of
expectations. Not necessarily in the same moment, but
over the course of our day, over the course of our
careers. A couple of my colleagues at Harvard and
Columbia did a study. They looked at whether putting people into
different body positions would affect their psychology and the way they responded to different types of
situations. So they took the participants and
physically posed them either in expansive postures with
their arm across the back of a chair or their feet
up on the desk or they pose them into more constrictive postures where
their knees were touching or elbows were held close to the side and they had their hands like they were sitting with their hands between
their knees. So, after two minutes in these postures, my colleagues measured a number of
different things. One the things they were interested in was
in hormone levels. They looked at two hormones in particular. Measurements were taken before the
participants were posed in the posture, to get a kind of a natural, or
baseline, level. And then measurements were taken after two
minutes in the posture. They looked at testosterone levels. Testosterone’s the hormone that’s
associated with aggression and dominance. And they looked at cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone that’s associated
with stress and responses to threat, and its responsible for a lot of
the stress related illnesses. After two minutes in the posture,
participants who were posed expansively, had significant
increases in their testosterone levels. And participants who were posed
submissively, or in a more constrictive way, had significant
increases in their cortisol levels. And you can think about using your body language to intervene in your own state of
mind. [MUSIC]>>I’ve had about six months in my new
role and a key component of this job is to give presentations to fairly sizable groups of
women. When I walk into these rooms I know that I
have to be very centered, take up a lot of space, use my voice and
project it but stay very stable. And every time I do this it becomes more
natural.>>So I’m trying to figure out how to find that balance between friendliness,
which comes naturally to me, and this display of confidence
which I feel like I have and I should show.>>After taking Professor Greenfeld’s
class it really opened my eyes as to when I walk into a room I need to look around and assess and think,
do I want to play high or do I want to play
low? When I’m listening it’s really important
to me to seem approachable and open. And when I’m presenting I want to seem
authoritative.>>The majority of my communication with
clients takes place over the telephone. Including the all important client pitch,
and so although they can’t see me I completely understand how important it
is for me to convey this strong presence. So I’ll do three things. First is I, I make sure I’m standing up. I walk around the room. So, I’m not constricted in my movements. I use my body language, my gestures and
the third thing is that I make sure that I project
my voice.>>Often, I’ll talk to junior women about
managing perceptions. Things as simple as how you’re sitting in
your chair. Are you sitting with your head tilted to
the side and making yourself small or are you occupying your space and
making yourself square and big? What about your voice? Are you going off at the end of every
sentence? Or are you speaking in a calm controlled
manner? Are you making eye contact? These things are all evolutionary cues
that help humans determine one another’s status and it’s really important to be in
control of how you’re perceived.>>I’ve been a professional for 25 years. It’s taken the entire 25 years for me to
learn that, to go from authoritative to being approachable, can still produce
results, and I think I’m still learning.>>Being successful in an organizational
role is not just about being able to play high,
it’s not just about being able to play low, it’s about being able to recognize what
situations require. And to be able to adapt to the situations. What I”m talking about is making really
subtle kinds of changes. This is not about a major overhaul of your
behavior. Sometimes it is just about backing off
things that you use in a kind of impulsive or knee jerk way to make
really slight adjustments that you’ll find can have a huge impact in
terms of how other people see you and in terms of how you behave and
how you feel. It’s important for women to recognize that
there are dual challenges that we face. One is to meet the expectations associated
with high level organizational roles and the other is to meet the expectations
associated with our gender roles. It’s the balance between playing high and
playing low that I think makes most manager
effective. And this may be especially important for
women. I just want to encourage you to give yourselves permission to try
something new. The next time you feel challenged, you go into a situation where it’s important to
you to be seen in a certain way where you want
to have a particular type of impact. Think about how you’re standing when you
walk into the room. Think about how you sit down. Think about what you’re doing with your
head and your eyes when you’re speaking and how you look when
you’re listening and see what happens. [MUSIC] Everything we need is already there. Everything we need is already in us, it’s
just a question of giving yourself permission to
find it and use it. [MUSIC]

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