Listen to the audio version of this post here.
“Sit up straight, please.” Somebody’s been saying that for years. Your mother maybe, or a teacher, or that lady in your neighborhood who gave piano lessons in her den.
They were all right.
One sure way to have a more powerful, professional presence is to fully occupy our space.
And we can’t possibly do that if we’re slouching or slumping or hunching.
Sitting at a conference table, or at our desk in front of a Zoom screen, we make a stronger impression when we’re grounded, centered, and upright.
That means both feet are flat on the floor and our seat is firmly in the chair. Our spine is straight, our shoulders are back and down, and we hold our head up high.
It’s probably not a surprise that the men in a meeting are more likely than women to take up space. Sometimes to a fault.
Maybe you’ve been in a conference room with a guy who crossed one ankle over his other leg, put his hands behind his head with his elbows jutting to the sides, then leaned back and spread way out.
Now that’s taking up space.
And I’m definitely not recommending it. People read that I-own-the-place posture as arrogant and offensive. And they hate it. I’ve demonstrated the master-of-the-universe spread and heard a roomful of women groan in response.
The issue for women is the opposite.
We might wrap our legs around the chair’s legs, plop our feet down sideways, or cross our ankles.
You’ll see women sit with their shoulders drawn in, as if they’re trying to disappear. Hands that should be on the arms of the chair or on the desk or table are folded in laps instead.
I’ve worked with so many clients who naturally (and to their detriment) assumed that demure, passive posture. And maybe it’s no wonder. We were taught to sit like nice girls, weren’t we?
Yes, that’s me in the photo, third from the left, sitting in a row of nice girls with ankles crossed and hands in laps, as the boys stood proudly behind us. It was the day everyone in our Sunday School class got a Bible with their name printed on the cover.
You wouldn’t see—or hear—me sitting like that today. And yes, we can hear the way you sit.
That’s why posture is so important. It creates an impression of strength or the lack of it.
You can try it out for yourself.
Put your feet flat on the floor now, even press down a little bit into the floor. Settle into your chair evenly, so your weight’s not on one hip or the other. Straighten your spine, let your shoulders settle. And draw the energy of the earth up into your body.
Breathe into the power center below your navel and exhale fully. You might notice that you’ve been holding your breath without even being aware of it.
And creating that awareness is the point. The way we hold our body—and the way we move—send a strong message to those around us. They say something to us too.
You might find that as you ground yourself and straighten up … as you fully occupy your space … you actually feel more confident, ready to face whatever comes your way.
We might as well tell the world and ourselves that we’re here. We’re firm. And we count.