Deborah Gruenfeld: Power & Influence | Summary and Q&A

March 13, 2013
Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Deborah Gruenfeld: Power & Influence


Your body language conveys more than your words and can have a major impact on how others perceive you and your level of influence.

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Key Insights

  • 🔨 Body language is a powerful tool for influencing how others perceive us and how we can have an impact.
  • 🏛️ Understanding and using body language to adjust to different situations can help navigate challenges and build rapport.
  • 🤽‍♀️ Women often face dual expectations and may need to find a balance between playing high and playing low.
  • 🎚️ Posture and gestures can affect hormone levels, with expansive postures leading to increased testosterone levels associated with dominance and constrictive postures leading to increased cortisol levels associated with stress.
  • 💄 Developing awareness of and making subtle adjustments to body language can have a significant impact on how others perceive and respond to us.
  • 🪡 Balancing the need to show authority and approachability is crucial for effective leadership.


People are gonna decide if you're confident or not in the last about 100 milliseconds [SOUND] and then it's over. [MUSIC] So I can trace my interest in this topic back to something that happened to me in the 1980s. Before I was an academic, I worked for a short time in public relations. And found myself one day in a meeting at nine o'clock in the m... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How does body language affect how others perceive us?

Research shows that only 7% of the impression others form about us comes from what we say, while the rest is derived from our body language and other non-verbal cues. It is crucial to be aware of how we present ourselves physically.

Q: What are the two objectives for having influence in a situation?

The first objective is to show up authoritative, indicating that you are in charge and have the knowledge and experience to make decisions. The second objective is to show up approachable, allowing others to feel comfortable approaching you and sharing their thoughts.

Q: Is there a specific body language associated with playing high and playing low?

Yes, playing high involves open and expansive body language, taking up space, and maintaining confident eye contact. On the other hand, playing low involves making yourself small, holding your body close, and using less direct eye contact.

Q: How does body language differ between men and women in leadership roles?

Men and women do not behave differently in these roles, but they are perceived differently when exhibiting the same behaviors. Women may face more scrutiny and are often expected to exhibit body language associated with playing low, while also needing to display authoritative behavior.


This video explores the relationship between body language and power and how it can influence the impressions we make on others. The speaker emphasizes the importance of being aware of our body language in various situations and provides insights on how to project both authority and approachability. The video also addresses how gender can play a role in how body language is perceived and offers strategies for women to navigate these expectations.

Questions & Answers

Q: Why does the speaker trace their interest in body language back to their experience in public relations?

The speaker recalls a memorable encounter with a powerful entertainment industry executive who displayed unconventional behavior during a meeting. This experience sparked the speaker's curiosity about the role of body language in influencing others and making an impact.

Q: What is the speaker's key observation regarding the impression we make on others?

The speaker explains that people form an impression of us within the first 100 milliseconds and that this impression is largely based on our body language. Only a small percentage of the impression is derived from what we actually say.

Q: How does the speaker describe the concept of "playing high"?

The speaker introduces the concept of "playing high," which involves projecting authority and being in control. This body language includes open and expansive postures, confidently holding eye contact, and speaking in clear and direct sentences. It is a way of demonstrating dominance and power.

Q: What does the speaker mean by "playing low"?

"Playing low" refers to adopting body language that is more submissive and approachable. It involves making oneself smaller physically, avoiding direct eye contact, and using more incomplete sentences. This body language helps build rapport and is about creating a sense of approachability and humbleness.

Q: How does gender play a role in how body language is perceived?

The speaker highlights a study that demonstrates how men and women can be perceived differently even when exhibiting the same behavior. Women are often socialized to display the body language associated with playing low, which can lead to challenges when occupying authoritative roles. Expectations linked to gender roles can create a dual challenge for women in navigating assertiveness and approachability.

Q: What insights does the speaker offer for finding a balance between authority and approachability?

The speaker encourages individuals to recognize the need for both authority and approachability in different situations. Being able to adapt one's body language based on the context is crucial. Making subtle adjustments, such as posture, eye contact, and vocal tone, can significantly impact how others perceive and respond to us.

Q: How can body language be used to intervene in one's own state of mind?

The speaker references a study in which different body positions were found to affect hormone levels and psychological responses. Postures associated with dominance and expansion led to increases in testosterone, while more constrictive postures increased cortisol levels. This suggests that consciously changing our body language can impact our own mindset and emotions.

Q: How do individuals share their personal experiences with using body language to enhance their professional presence?

Various individuals share their experiences of consciously using body language to improve their professional presence. They mention strategies such as projecting a strong presence during presentations, using body language to convey confidence over the phone, and consciously adjusting body language for specific situations.

Q: Why does the speaker emphasize the importance of adaptability in using body language effectively?

The speaker asserts that being effective in organizational roles requires balancing the expectations associated with playing high and the expectations linked to gender roles. Being adaptable and recognizing which situations call for different body language approaches is crucial for managers, and especially important for women navigating these dual challenges.

Q: What is the key takeaway from this video?

The speaker encourages viewers to be mindful of their body language and to give themselves permission to try new approaches. The power to harness and use body language effectively is already within us, and making subtle adjustments can have a significant impact on how others perceive us and how we feel.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Body language shapes the impression others have of us, with people forming judgments about our confidence in as little as 100 milliseconds.

  • Most people focus too much on what they say in a situation rather than how their body language is conveying messages.

  • There are two objectives to keep in mind when wanting to have influence: showing up authoritative and approachable.

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