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The Cuddy power pose has been circulating amid folks and is one of the most watched TED talks. It sits into my “One Size Fits All” (OSFA ) file. This is the file that carries the motivation to be writing my coaching/motivational books, the ones that say “One Size does Not Fit All”. The books that contain the challenges and successes of the many people I have coached over the years because they chose to embrace their non-status quo size and create the frameworks and tools that match their life, especially in terms of dealing with interpersonal and societal oppression on a daily basis.
While the Cuddy pose may have some value, nowhere in the talk or book does Ann Cuddy address what happens when women and people of color show their power in a system that is set up to minimize and distort our power. We do not live on a level playing field and the world responds differently to our power posing. I work with my coaching clients on both presence AND taking into account the social, political, psychological, and economic impact of oppression. I read Cuddy’s book Presence because an African-American male client wanted to work with it. I then infused our conversations with the lens of the current state of racism he faces daily and how to notice and manage his particular presence in a corporate setting with very few people of color. Some of the initial questions I asked to enhance the book content were:
When did you feel most present in last two weeks (confident and enthusiastic)?
When this happens, what are the demographics in room? (Race/gender/rank/other variables?)
These are not in the book because OSFA books and speakers don’t worry about the stereotype of being a black man or even a small Latina woman with a big aura. He is magnified and I am diminished. In each instant we feel the privileged folks asking us to be the size that brings them comfort and a sense of supremacy. One of the quiet ways this happens is restaurant seating. Once I saw this, I added yet another habit of scanning the restaurant and deciding where I wanted to sit. If the person directed me to a location I did not like, I voiced my preference. I often tell them before they say anything so I don’t have to experience the ‘ouch’.
The power pose requires time in the bathroom posing in a stall before a big meeting or event. I don’t choose to spend time in bathrooms to pose when societal limitations descend. I might spend half my life in the bathroom! I do, however, see restrooms as a refuge, but not to pose. I smile at my reflection instead — I am real, I am enough, I am loved, and I am powerful. “I see you” is my message. That is my power – inside me all the time. Another question I posed to my client was:
What are adjectives that define your power (to)?
While I absolutely agree with taking up appropriate space, that is not going to look the same for each person depending on your blend of historically privileged and not privileged identities and your environment. While Cuddy says the ‘imposter experience’ is experienced across all types of people (and I agree), my work with POC and women confirm it manifests differently and more profoundly for these groups because society is telling us we don’t deserve to be successful and powerful. As a black man, my added question to my client on this phenomena was:
How to you experience the imposter phenomena and how does the combination of ‘black’ and ‘man’ make it particularly challenging?
Interestingly enough, the value of the power pose has been challenged even without the lens of equity being considered. Even in the discounting of it, no mention is made of who was studied and who was not.
The issue about OSFA writers is that people like Ann Cuddy or Ariana Huffington in her book Thrive get the benefit of the doubt with no credible science or awareness of differences in power. I read Thrive as a possible comp for my books, and noted she quoted hundreds of people, mostly white and mostly men, which seems antithetical to her positioning as a powerful woman. Sometimes a page had no less than 8 quotes -with very little original material.
The focus with my client was to use the notion of presence to get at what I have seen over the years build relaxed confidence. In addition to the ones I have already shared, these are questions to answer to understand your authentic power and internalize the external power pose idea without having to stand like superman/woman/girl/person in a bathroom stall.
Take one a day and explore your authentic power to be your brightest, most amazing self.
What are two personal inner core values?
Why are they core and when was a time it proved to be important to you?
When did you recently feel present and saw that someone else became more present because of your relaxed confidence and attentiveness?
How do you capture moments/situations when you feel personally powerful, in control of your own psychological state?
What has personal power revealed to you about your best self?
What body postures do you manifest that signifies power or powerlessness?
What is your ‘haka’ – where is your ‘belonging place’ and what you do that demonstrates pride in your heritage? How do you reconnect to your spiritual/heart strength?