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The last time I tried power posing, on my way to a job interview, I stood tall in the lift with my hands on my hips like Wonder Woman. I inhaled all the good, confident thoughts and immediately popped a button on my blouse. It shot through the opening doors and rolled to a wobbling halt in the lobby. Clutching my shirt throughout the interview did not make me feel like a superhero.
If the number of books that arrive at the FT offices are any indication, the subject of managing yourself is more popular than ever. Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk about power posing has nearly 49m views. Tips and tricks flood in about how to be better, do better, feel better.
There had to be something else out there for women to use when they needed a boost. So I made it a personal quest to find hacks to answer three questions to which women I know want answers: how to gain confidence; how to negotiate; and how to reclaim a meeting. Putting it to the experts, what I found was surprising, sometimes obvious, and often downright useful.
How to have more confidence
Break the rules
In what has become known as the “red sneaker effect”, research by Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School suggests people who deviate from the norm in a small but unexpected way are perceived by peers as higher status than those who conform. Wearing red shoes with a suit at an important meeting is just enough to be a little different.
“This says something to others about yourself — that you have the status to intentionally break the rules,” says Prof Gino. Wherever there is a norm, there is an opportunity to rebel and boost your confidence, she suggests. If everyone uses PowerPoint, find a new medium for your presentation. If everyone wears black suits, put a flower in your lapel.
Know your strengths, but also your weaknesses
“It gives you a foundation,” says Therese Tucker, chief executive of Los Angeles-based tech company BlackLine. Knowing yourself helps you feel more confident and authentic at work, and knowing where you need improvement protects your flank. “If you receive unjust criticism, it won’t faze you, because you’ll know what doesn’t have merit.”
Admit weaknesses to others
Prof Gino’s research shows people are more trusting and respectful of those who recognise their flaws and mistakes. If you are meeting a specialised team at your company, and you have no idea what they do, do not fake it, she advises. Say: “I have zero knowledge about this, can you help me understand?” They will respect the fact that you did not try to bluff, and you will feel more confident because you are not worried about being caught out. Plus, you learn something.
Take back control of a meeting
NPQ (Name, pause, open question)
When a colleague will not stop talking and you have an agenda to work through, wait till they inhale and strike with the NPQ, says Kathleen O’Connor, associate professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School.
Quickly say the name of a colleague in the meeting, calling the room’s attention away from the ranter. Pause and pose an open question — with no “yes” or “no” answer — such as: “What’s your take on the client’s expectations?”
This approach was used by the women working in the administration of US president Barack Obama. Agree with two or three other people that you are going to create more space for everyone in the room to talk about their ideas, says Ms O’Connor.
If one person has a point to make, the others will find ways to come back to that. “Someone in the Amplification Squad can say, ‘Deb, can you say a little more about that?’ or ‘I’d like to go back to what Deb said earlier, I think that was really powerful’.”
Diplomatic transition expressions
If one person is going on and on, they are trying to be heard. It helps if you can summarise or acknowledge the point they are trying to make, says Alexandra Notay of PFP Capital. Say “thank you very much for saying XYZ, Ted, but we are running out of time so let’s move on to the next thing we need to discuss”. Or, “I think what I’m hearing is XYZ,” then say, “but I think what we need to address now is ABC”.
Use the stop sign
If you are leading a meeting and have to interrupt someone, do not shout but instead use body language. Put your hand up, says Ms Tucker. Then say, “‘I want to hear what this [other] person has to say”, and turn your body away from the person who has talked for too long. People will be glad you did.
How do I negotiate?
Seriously. Bring chocolate to the meeting, or coffee. Eat some before you go in. Chocolate puts us in a better mood, which helps us become creative problem solvers, says Ms O’Connor. Lab research shows that people who ate chocolate had better outcomes than those who did not. Bring coffee for the person you are meeting, and do not worry it will look like sucking up. “Sometimes people are just grateful. Have the conversation over a muffin, and everyone feels comfortable and non-threatened.”
Move your chair
Sit beside the person you are meeting, rather than opposite. This helps change the meeting mindset from confrontational to problem-solving between the leaders and subordinate. Sitting beside someone makes it more comfortable to talk about sensitive topics and reminds participants that you both want the same thing: a solution that keeps you in the job.
Reframe, reframe, reframe
One problem is thinking the only purpose of negotiation is to narrow the space between different positions. Instead, approach the meeting as a “what if?” conversation, to broaden the possibilities and figure out all available options. Use co-operative and inclusive language, such as: “I’d like to talk with you about this situation, and there are a couple of details we need to iron out.” Instead of asking ‘What can I get?’, it is important to ask yourself ‘What can I give?’,” says Prof Gino. You may achieve more by giving something important to the other side that is trivial to you.
Prepare for every contingency
Do not walk into the meeting with a list of what you want — ways in which, for instance, flexible working would benefit you. Instead, show you have thought about how it will affect your team. By considering the effects, you reduce the likelihood of rejection, says Leila Guerra, associate dean of Imperial College Business School. In the case of flexible working, know what options others at your company have used, and how it worked. Come with possible solutions prepared. Your boss will be grateful for the problem-solving help.
Use a client mindset
Imagine it is not your boss who has control over what you want, but a client, says Ms Guerra. This helps take emotion and frustration out of a complicated conversation.
Never leave with a “no”
If the conversation is not going the way you hoped, end it on your terms. Interrupt a “no” if you have to, says Ms O’Connor. You can say: “I appreciate your time, you’ve given me some things to think about. I’d like to continue the conversation and come back with answers.”
Make clear this is not the final conversation, and acknowledge their concerns. Framing their points as questions gives you the ability to come back with possible answers.
Ask “what does it take?” If you receive a harder “no” than expected, do not leave without a strategy, says Ms Guerra. Say: “If you’re telling me ‘no’, what does it take for me to get there?” Your audience needs to help you build a plan so the next time you ask them for something, you will get it.
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