You’re a leader, a manager, a person in charge. You delegate, coach, and inspire. And sometimes you want to put your feet up on your desk. Could this pose, though, really make you feel more powerful at work?
University of Buffalo psychologist Lora E. Park, Ph.D., conducted four studies with more than 600 men and women born in the U.S. or East Asia (e.g., China, Japan, South Korea) to see if the assumed link between expansive body postures and power is true. What she discovered was that it actually depends on the type of posture and the person’s cultural background.
“The expansive postures, which were based on previous research, consisted of an expansive-hands-spread-on-desk pose (i.e., standing up and leaning over on a desk with hands spread apart), an expansive-upright-sitting pose (i.e., resting one’s ankle on the opposite leg’s knee with one arm on the armrest and the other hand on the desk), and an expansive-feet-on-desk pose (i.e., leaning back in one’s chair with feet on top of the desk, hands placed behind one’s head, fingers interlocked and elbows spread out wide),” Park said. “In four studies, the effect of each posture on participants was evaluated in comparison to a constricted body posture (e.g., sitting with hands under thighs, standing with arms wrapped around one’s body).”
Park found that the feet-on-desk pose led to greater feelings of power, power-related concepts, and greater risk-taking for Americans, but not East Asians. After holding the pose for three minutes, the American participants more often chose to deal with a problem presented to them. This didn’t have the safe effect for the East Asian participants.
Just for the record, the expansive-hands-spread-on-desk and expansive-upright-sitting poses led to greater feelings of power for both the Americans and the East Asians.
“Overall, these findings suggest that expansive postures have both universal and culturally specific effects on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior,” Park said. “Some postures, such as the expansive-hands-spread-on-desk and expansive-upright-sitting poses, make people across cultures feel more powerful. In contrast, expansive postures that violate cultural norms, such as putting one’s feet on the desk, do not make all individuals feel powerful.”
“Stand Tall, but Don’t Put Your Feet Up: Universal and Culturally-Specific Effects of Expansive Postures on Power” is reported in the November 2013 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 49, Issue 5). Park’s co-authors are Lindsey Streamer, University of Buffalo doctoral student in social psychology; Li Huang, Ph.D., assistant professor of organizational behavior, INSEAD; and Adam Galinsky, Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business, Columbia Business School.
(Image via Flickr: starmanseries/Creative Commons)