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The Tory Power Pose – Why?

What is this all about?

Images have again emerged this week of key members of the Conservative Party striking their Superhero pose (aka ‘The Tory Power Pose’) – why are they doing it? The people of Twitter definitely had something to say…

 

On finding out that he has been made Home Secretary, Sajid Javid was photographed striking the same ‘Tory Power Pose’ used previously by David Cameron, George Osborne and Prime Minister Theresa May.

If you haven’t seen it, you should. First unveiled at the Conservative Party Conference of 2015, it’s an odd thing to look at; legs wide enough to comfortably allow the passing of a London Bus, a slight arch in the spine – causing the impression of the weight being slightly back, shoulders forced open and arms placed without any observable energy down at the side. George Osborne nails the position with the effect that he looks as if his upper and lower body belong to two entirely different people.

As someone who spends much of his time travelling the World working in detail with speakers on, amongst other things, their physicality, seeing the images made an immediate question spring to mind: what the hell are they doing?

It can only be that a) someone has told them that this is a good idea or b) they themselves believe it to be so. I’m not sure which of these is the more concerning.

Using your body to communicate

The importance that the human body plays in the outcomes of our communications is well known and is not a new idea in any way – I have recently returned from working in the Middle East where a presenter I was coaching told me about ‘Al Ferasa’ the ancient Bedouin ‘science’ of understanding a person’s personality through their facial expression. This has been going on for thousands of years.

Whether you believe Mehrabian’s 55% (and if you are going to, do so with a pinch of salt), or believe others who would suggest that the percentage figure of how important physicality is in communication is far higher, the fact is that what we do physically, whether that be through body position, gesture, eye contact, or facial expression is fundamental to our impact as communicators.

I coach Leaders and their teams across different cultures and what is happening physically with a communication is the first thing I look for. You can be working very well with your message vocally but if there is no congruence between that and what you are doing physically the effect can be incredibly negative. In extreme cases very simply you won’t be believed.

Working with communicators whether it be in business, politics, sport or the arts is about enabling people to communicate in an engaging, impactful and authentic manner. And here’s the thing. There is nothing authentic about the Tory Power Pose in any way. I simply don’t believe it and I’m not sure that they do either.

What message are they trying to convey?

Let’s look at the hypothesis that someone is advising them to adopt this stance. My first question would be why? What is it looking to achieve? What effect are you looking to have on your audience? Creating empathy with people? Appearing powerful and as a ‘strong leader’?

In terms of empathy, I think it creates exactly the opposite. The image is of someone detached, almost looking down on us. In terms of ‘strong leadership’, I would go back to the words of one of the most inspirational leaders I have worked with, someone from the Military, who describes great leadership as the ability to be both authentic and vulnerable. Well sorry, but the pose is neither of those.

Why has one of them (and remember these are highly educated people in positions of prominence) not looked in the mirror or proofed the images and simply said what everyone else is thinking “come on, I’m not doing that, it just looks bloody ridiculous…”

Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk

The answer may be that they haven’t been advised to do it at all – that they actually believe this to be a good way of sending a message. Perhaps they have watched Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk and have bought into it in a very practical way.

Cuddy who is a Social Psychologist suggests that by changing your physicality and striking certain ‘power poses’ your brain produces increased levels of hormones that can effectively create internal confidence.

I have been very wary of this idea since I originally saw the talk. It’s quite easy now to jump on the bandwagon that says “It’s been disproven” (by one of Cuddy’s original collaborators Dana Carney), but frankly, even if it hadn’t been I still don’t think it’s the best way of skinning the confidence cat. From someone who often struggled with self-confidence as a performer, standing in front of a mirror like Thor for five minutes before walking on stage in front of 1500 people wouldn’t have cut it. This isn’t to say that your body language can’t have an effect but personally, I strongly believe that it has to come from somewhere deeper.

As far as I remember Cuddy’s point was that you could adopt these poses alone, before you step on stage, as preparation, not as your modus operandi in front of the World’s media. So if this is the case then they’ve not entirely understood it.

So, however, they have got there I return to my initial question; why are they doing it?

I’ve thought about this at length from many different perspectives and here’s my professional answer. I have no idea. Absolutely none whatsoever.

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Matt Burgess

Written by Matt Burgess

An actor by trade, Matt has worked extensively in theatre, television and film, starring in productions such as; War Horse, Prometheus and Black Mirror. As a trainer he has travelled Globally, working at all levels of organisations in both public and private sectors. Working as a Communications Coach, he has been able to work one to one with, amongst others, politicians, sports people and Heads of Global Business.

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