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Can Power Posing Help Lawyers Gain Confidence?

Can Power Posing Help Lawyers Gain Confidence?

Confidence helps any career flourish and it’s even more critical in the legal profession. Can adjusting your body posture really return immediate results? Here’s the ‘final’ word.

Words are never final in science, but the recent controversy over whether research concluding “power posing” is an effective way to gain confidence fast seems settled enough to call it well worth a try.

The art of presentation is an integral aspect of the legal profession, regardless of your particular practice. Good presentation skills matter, whether you are providing direction and counsel to a client, wooing potential referral sources or influencing a judge or jury at trial. Essential to your presentation skills is the ability to project confidence and power to those you wish to influence. This goes for new and experienced practitioners alike. And it all begins with the way in which you view yourself. If you don’t believe in your abilities, then how can you persuade others to trust and respect you?

A social psychologist named Amy Cuddy revealed a solution at a TED conference in 2012, when she was a professor at Harvard Business School (she’s now a Harvard University Lecturer). Her talk — now with 43 million views — shares her research on how Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. She explained how power posing can change not only how others perceive you, but also how you perceive yourself. She found that by embracing a high-power pose for two minutes, you can increase levels of testosterone by 20 percent and decrease levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol by 25 percent. With these physical changes transforming the how you think and feel about yourself, you can thereby project a more positive and confident image to others.

Concluding her talk, Cuddy described a challenging personal experience where she was convinced she would fail. Her college advisor told her to fake it until you make it. Amy says she used that approach through undergrad, graduate school and as a teacher until she forgot that she was faking it and actually became it. Her message is that power posing will feel like you’re faking confidence. But because your body position is a tool that creates confidence, “faking it” will help you become it.

But will it? When some researchers failed to replicate her results, most of the research community responded beyond questioning the validity of her results with uniquely harsh criticism. Her coauthor even abandoned any defense of their work. In 2017, The New York Times published a pretty fascinating story on why The Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy, revealing culture changes in academia that shaped the disproportionate backlash.

In April 2018, Forbes published more enthusiastic support of Cuddy’s work. In 2016, New York Magazine published Amy Cuddy’s overview on the state of the science on postural feedback (power posing) and some comments on civilized scientific discourse.

Power posing is worth trying. Next time you are gearing up to make a presentation, meet with a client or give an opening statement, take two minutes to “power pose” and see how it impacts you and your audience. As you learn about any new research, stay mindful of how you can use it. If there’s dubious causality but little risk and time commitment, you might stand to gain even if it’s just from the placebo effect. In the unlikely event that power poses make you feel less confident or any other negative emotion — which was never an actual claim opposing Cuddy’s research — it makes sense to find other options instead.

Affirming your values is also worth trying. Don’t lie to yourself like Al Franken’s character tried in that old SNL sketch. Listen to Amy Cuddy explain how we can feel more powerful by taking time to remind ourselves what our values are and why we hold them.

If there are actual skills you need to develop to pursue your values but you don’t know where to start, find out How to Grow Strengths for the Right Career as a Lawyer, the first workbook of five in our Career Research & Development Series.

For deeper struggles with confidence, lawyers and law students in Massachusetts can talk confidentially to an LCL clinician for free. Just call (617) 482-9600 and ask to set up a call or meeting in Boston.

To wrap up, we got some further insight from Dr. Shawn Healy, a psychologist at LCL, below.

Most people at some point in their lives experience what is known as the Imposter Syndrome. This is when a person feels like he/she is a fake or significantly inadequate as compared to those around him/her. We often judge others by what they show us (usually the best image they can muster), while we judge ourselves based on all the positive and negative information we have on ourselves. This can result in an overly positive view of others’ competence and an overly negative view of our own abilities. Practicing a “power pose” should involve very little risk, and can help quickly boost your confidence.

To sustain your confidence boost, I recommend this surprisingly effective technique: Try to avoid judging others. Replace judgment with the view that everyone else is “a person with doubts and flaws, and tries the best they can, just like me”. It might not feel easy for awhile, but each time you resist judging someone else, your brain moves further from concerns about when and how others are judging you.

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This post is an update to our publication on June 20, 2014 – Maximize Your Impact by Boosting Your Internal Image, which originally appeared in the Massachusetts Bar Association’s eJournal.