Mastering External Mindfulness

External mindfulness holds the key to understanding whether people read you as likeable and reasonable, or annoying and out of touch.
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mid-adult businessman in a conversation with the consultant or psychologist
mid-adult businessman in a conversation with the consultant or psychologist

Watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

The power poses that Amy Cuddy teaches can translate into winning more negotiations and building better relationships. Or they could backfire and cost you money and friends. Your success depends on how well you master external and internal mindfulness.

Power poses may make you feel confident and relaxed. Blood tests even show they boost testosterone and reduce the stress hormone cortisol. But other people might read you, instead, as arrogant, entitled, or just clueless. Suppose you get an email with a job offer. You might strike a power pose, and confidently call them back with your "salary requirements."

Alas, you might not be offered the job after all. The interviewer might think your requirements unrealistic, or sense the wrong attitude. Power poses to boost your confidence still can be a good first step. You simply need to balance this first step with a healthy dose of mindfulness. You may know mindfulness as a kind of meditative awareness of your own thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions. This is only one type of mindfulness that I teach: internal mindfulness.

External mindfulness, which I teach around the world, means awareness of the thoughts, body movements, and emotions of others. External mindfulness holds the key to understanding whether people read you as likeable and reasonable, or annoying and out of touch.

I teach external mindfulness through the universal facial expressions of emotion. In any negotiation, you need external mindfulness to recognize such things as the facial expression of contempt. That half smile that Dick Cheney made so famous is the classic sign of contempt. You can see me demonstrate this and some of the other seven universal expressions of emotion online.

Don't just trust me on this. As Cuddy teaches in her TEDTalk, body movements reveal your emotions. But when you take on a movement or facial expression, you also feel a particular emotion. Look at Dick Cheney's half smile, try to make it yourself, and see how you start to feel. It's probably judgmental and annoyed.

When you see that half smile in a negotiation, it's like a stoplight: you want to stop and regroup. In relationship research, expressions of contempt are big predictors of which couples split. In my experience, they also predict which deals never close and which business partnerships fail.

Recently, I was negotiating with someone who had helped to get me an engagement teaching lawyers and negotiators in a European capital. He was a nice man, but I came to realize he had been paid much more than was customary for an agent. Before I spoke to him about this issue, I tried to boost my confidence in several ways. When we met via Skype, I said, "As an agent, you should get ten to twenty percent."

As soon as the word "agent" left my lips, one side of his mouth curled up in contempt. Like many microexpressions of emotion, it lasted less than a second. I dropped the point, and asked him instead how he thought we might split the revenue in the future. I preserved our relationship to this day, though I ended up with a better-paying deal with someone else.

In your social life, too, your expressions of "confidence" or "relaxation" can also backfire. Say you want to ask someone out. Before you approach him or her, you might practice a power pose. You probably feel more confident, and ask the person out to dinner. There's a pause, and they say they are busy.

This is another situation where you would have benefited from trying external mindfulness. If you did, then you might have noticed a different microexpression on the person's face. In less than a second, his or her eyebrows may have gone up, probably stretching a bit to the side, and the eyes may have opened wide. That is a universal signal of fear. If you saw it, you could regroup. "Actually, I only have fifteen minutes this afternoon for a break - why don't we grab some coffee at that new café."

Perhaps overconfidence isn't your problem at all. Instead, you might find a power pose doesn't make you feel more confident and relaxed. In Cuddy's research, most people felt better after only two minutes in particular power poses. But no pose works for every person, and some people may need more time in a pose.

To see what works for you, try being mindful before and after you try a power pose. Some people use mindfulness of the breath. You might be aware of your breath for a minute before and after the pose. If you're someone who finds that breath meditation works, then you might notice your breath is longer or deeper after the pose. That longer breath may indicate relaxation, and you might be getting the lower cortisol promised by power pose researchers.

This week, see and feel what works for you. Power poses may be a new part of your routine, but remember to use internal mindfulness to see which work for you -- and external mindfulness to see how they affect those around you.

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