Amy Cuddy: Body Language That Exudes Friendliness

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Presence" by Amy Cuddy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What should you take away from Amy Cuddy’s body language advice? What type of body language should you avoid using in stressful situations?

In her book Presence, Amy Cuddy recommends avoiding overtly powerful body language while interacting with others. Instead, you should adopt subtle and friendly body language that makes everyone comfortable.

Discover more about body language that you should use in social situations.

Adopt Open and Friendly Body Language

In stressful situations, Amy Cuddy’s body language advice is to adopt open and friendly body language that communicates your self-assuredness without making people feel uncomfortable or defensive

(Shortform note: Some elements of body language can also be interpreted differently depending on the context, making it important to “read the room,” so to speak. For example, standing with your hands on your hips could be interpreted as aggressive in one scenario, or it could be perceived as a sign that you’re enthusiastic and ready to go.)

Research shows that people perceive friendliness and trustworthiness before they assess your competence, so the right body language is more important for making a good first impression than showing how knowledgeable or talented you are.

To demonstrate open and friendly body language, stand up straight with your head up and shoulders back and relax your muscles. Cuddy also recommends making slow, deliberate movements when communicating. For example, if you’re on a stage, walk around slowly and use the whole space (which is also more dynamic and interesting for the audience to watch). Take your time and pause both your movements and speech when it feels right. Smiling when appropriate will make you feel better and also communicate kindness toward the other people present.

The Importance of Nailing a First Impression

Similar to Cuddy, many authors emphasize the importance of a positive first impression. For example, in How to Talk to Anyone, communication expert Leil Lowndes asserts that people rely on body language to instinctively form an opinion on someone before they even begin speaking. In How Highly Effective People Speak, public speaker Peter D. Andrei adds that people’s initial impression of you will influence their long-term perception of you because of a bias known as the halo effect: the tendency of people to generalize their opinion of someone based on one observed quality.

To optimize a first impression, Lowndes and body language experts Allan and Barbara Pease (The Definitive Book of Body Language) recommend additional open body language cues such as raising your eyebrows slightly to show that you’re happy to engage in conversation, keeping your arms loosely at your sides with your wrists and palms upward, and turning your body completely toward your listener. 

Body Language to Avoid

In addition to these tips, Cuddy provides some body language to avoid, including excessive eye contact, very strong handshakes, and exaggerated, rapid, or loud movements. If you’re seated, remember not to splay your limbs all over the place like you would if you were power-posing before the event. Research shows that these behaviors tend to make people resent you because they’ll think you’re either trying to exert control over them or are being manipulative to get the results you want. 

(Shortform note: It’s also important to note that while this advice is based on American culture, people’s preferences for body language vary widely by culture, so it may be necessary to account for other factors when modeling appropriate body language. For example, one source asserts that people from Asian cultures prefer more personal space than Americans, while people from Latin and Middle Eastern cultures require less personal space. Body language cues such as eye contact and handshakes may also vary depending on the relationship or gender of the people involved and can differ based on an individual’s personality.)

Cuddy writes that people tend to notice when your apparent stress and nervousness don’t match your body language—a phenomenon called “asynchrony”—which also makes you seem insincere and untrustworthy. 

(Shortform note: Here, Cuddy suggests that if you use overly confident or aggressive body language to compensate for your nervousness, people will pick up on the fact that it’s not genuine or perceive it as “pseudo-confidence”. However, she doesn’t explain why people wouldn’t register asynchrony when you’re feeling nervous and you use some of the relaxed and open body language cues that we described earlier in the section. This may be why it’s important to boost your confidence with power poses before the activity so that relaxed posture comes more naturally.) 

On the other end of the spectrum, tense and closed-off body language (what Cuddy refers to as “powerless posture”) to avoid includes folding your arms and legs inward, tightening your throat muscles (which raises the pitch of your voice), speaking too fast, and keeping your upper arms glued to your sides while only your lower arms move (Cuddy calls this “penguin arms”). These behaviors betray nervousness, which may make people skeptical of what you’re communicating. In other words, if you don’t have confidence in what you’re saying, neither will other people. 

(Shortform note: In a sales context, some experts recommend using other people’s closed-off body language as a signal that a prospective buyer is feeling skeptical or unreceptive to what you’re saying. In The Psychology of Selling, Brian Tracy writes that if a prospective customer is crossing their arms, for example, they may be feeling closed-minded. He also says that you can subtly nudge their mood by giving them something to hold or giving them an activity that will force them to uncross their arms.)

Amy Cuddy: Body Language That Exudes Friendliness

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Amy Cuddy's "Presence" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Presence summary:

  • How to navigate social situations, interviews, performances, and more
  • The research behind power poses, and how to use them effectively
  • Body language you should avoid so others won't resent you

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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