Amy Cuddy, one of my favorite speakers, has argued that our nonverbal behavior not only affects others perception of how powerful we are, but it also changes our own feelings of confidence and power.
In her excellent TED Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” Cuddy briefly describes some high-power poses, but I would like to dig a little deeper into the body language and behavior of alphas.
Remember, an alpha is the individual in a community with the highest rank, most power or highest level of respect. Typically other community members exhibit deference towards the alpha and allow them preferential treatment or control.
Both male and female alphas have very specific body language and behavior. And, if you believe Cuddy’s prescription that behaving like an alpha will actually help you become an alpha, then you have to know exactly how to act.
Here is a deeper review of alphas high-power body language and some subtle ways to get started:
Steepling is when someone brings their hands up towards their chest or face and presses the tips of their fingers together. This is a gesture of confidence, self-assuredness and even superiority. This can easily be done to inspire confidence in yourself and others during a meeting or interview. This is an easy one for female alphas in particular since it is seen as assertive, not aggressive.
2. Smile Less
Contrary to popular belief, smiling is actually seen as a sign of submission. Submissive people tend to smile more at alphas to show they are agreeable and non-threatening to their power. Alphas in turn (think Clint Eastwood) smile much less because their power is enough to put people in line. Females in particular need to be careful not to over smile as it puts them in a submissive position. Dr. Nancy Henley found that women smile in 87 percent of social encounters, while men only smile 67 percent of the time.
3. Hands Behind Your Back
Another high-power position that you often see politicians do is when they put their hands behind their back and grab one wrist. The reason this can be powerful is that it exposes the most vulnerable part of the body–the groin for men and chest area for women. Only a supremely confident person will place their hands behind their back in that way. You often see principals or teachers do this as they walk up and down rows of student’s desks during tests.
4. Top Handshake
Alphas know how to shake hands. Not only do they give a firm handshake, but they also try to be the dominant hand in the handshake. A high-power handshake is when the dominant person has their hand ‘on top’ of the clasp. The weaker person will often take the bottom part of the handshake by exposing the underside of their wrist–which is a physically weaker position. You often see politicians jockey for the dominant handshake position when meeting in front of cameras. Two equals usually just shake hands up and down, with no one on the top or bottom.
5. The Colors You Wear
Power and confidence are not only shown through body language but also through what you wear. The two most powerful colors are black and red. Black is the color of mystery and power, while red is the color of aggression, passion and violence. You often see politicians wear black suits with red ties. Occasionally you will also see blue ties, this is because blue is the color of wisdom, loyalty and honesty. You can also use color psychology to your advantage as an alpha and think carefully about which colors you wear to work.
As Cuddy explains, being alpha is both a mental and physical state. And your actions have greater effect than originally thought as they can both influence your own behavior and others’ perceptions of your behavior. Start practicing the above body language and behavior in addition to picking up on clues from other alphas in your life and you will begin to feel alpha yourself.
Interested in learning more on how to present yourself and look as a leader -- Check out the book Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards.