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We invest time in crafting the perfect presentation deck, plan the meeting, and invite the key people. However, more often than not an errant stakeholder with an opposing agenda can derail all of the hard work.

In corporate environments, we struggle with constantly trying to prove our creative skills bring value to a culture that rewards business logic and profits.

This is the result of speaking different languages when we only focus on verbally pitching the importance of our skill sets. How we communicate value and trust is actually the same non-verbal body language.

Understanding high power and low power body language

Amy Cuddy, a researcher at Harvard University, studied poses and their effect on our body chemistry. Her work defined two types of poses, “high” and “low” power. In short, “high power poses” are relaxed and open. “Low power poses” are closed and guarded. She and her team took a saliva sample of 42 participants doing different high and low power poses. The results showed that when in high power poses, participants showed an average 20 percent increase of testosterone and a 25 percent decrease of cortisol.

body language, communicating, and feeling heard. What do your hands say?

What do your hands say? How you position them show your confidence and how you your own perceive power.

Hands hold a lot of power

Our postures help communicate broad messages of power and confidence. According to Joe Navarro, retired FBI agent and author of, “What Every Body is Saying,” explains that we can also communicate a lot of subtle messages with our hands.

On Hips

When the hands are on the hip and elbows back, this shows a dominance display. You are alert and ready to share something.

Hand steepling

This is a common display of confidence often by people in leadership positions. This can be a useful way to show others that you are invested in what they are saying and in charge.

Palms up

This is a universal position for people who want to be accepted and trusted. Some cultures believe it is to show the other side that you bring now weapons or intent to harm.

Interlaced fingers with thumbs up

We often see this with the hands resting on the person’s lap. The person also uses the thumbs to illustrate a point. Confidence and commitment come through with the energy in the fingers and thumbs.

Thumbs out

When we communicate confidence, our thumbs move away from the index finger. This can also show level of commitment. The stronger the commitment the further away the thumbs are from the index finger.

Read more on body language and confidence.


The basic seven human emotions have a facial expression that correlates with them. These can be involuntary and unconscious. Our facial expressions can either strengthen our verbal intent or contradict it.

Activity: coffeeshop observations

Coffeeshops are excellent places to witness social interactions from a reasonable distance. As a graduate student, I would spend mornings or afternoons people watching and sketching people and poses.

Place: A coffee shop where you are comfortable with observing and sketching people.

Materials: Pencil or pen. Paper or your favorite sketchbook.
Activity: Look for people talking or greeting each other. You can start with the register where there will always be a predictable interaction with the patron and barista. When you feel warmed up, find people meeting for work, interviews, dates (yes, morning dates), etc.. Sketch posture and hands. Watch how they start off and shift. Listen to the language that accompanies the posture.

Post your sketches and takeaways from the activity in the comments below or on Twitter @engmatthew #coffeeshopsketches

Read more about creativity here.

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Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.