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When A Co-worker's Power Posing Invades Your Personal Space

The story du jour is the release of Workplace by Facebook, a workplace version of Facebook that will allow privacy-challenged employees everywhere to sandwich cute cat pictures between slices of corporate intellectual property in one, long news feed. But let's scroll right past it like a sappy, inspirational quote to talk about something else, shall we?

Did you see Donald Trump pacing around the town hall the other night? People are still talking about it, especially on Twitter. Whether he was looming over Ms. Clinton's shoulder or grabbing the back of a chair, Mr. Trump was all about the power pose. (Warning: presidential debate language NSFW.)

Power posing is all the rage in the business world. Wander into any conference room (or any open office environment) and you'll see someone doing their best Frank Underwood House of Cards impression in a meeting, at their desk, or in front of the break room microwave as they heat a burrito. 3-2-1, show us how it's done, Kevin Spacey!

Articles abound about the benefits of power posing on the job. One study found power posing can increase testosterone levels by 20% while decreasing cortisol levels by 25%. Another study, however, found that while power posing might make us feel more confident, it doesn't tend to impact our physiology or behavior.

But here's the kicker. One of the main researchers in the power posing field recently revealed that, in her opinion, power posing doesn't have much of a psychological leg to stand on! The effect probably isn't real.

Sunday night's presidential town hall, however, revealed that we can definitely have a real reaction to somebody else's power posing! So how should we react when a co-worker strikes one of many power poses at work? What should we do when we feel like a co-worker is -- for lack of a better phrase -- aggressively over-posing?

When A Co-worker's Power Posing Is Too Much
Examples of aggressive power posing abound at work. We can tell before the meeting starts that another working professional is trying to get a leg up (in this case, quite literally!) by standing with one foot on an office chair while chatting loudly on a smartphone. He's waving his free arm, gesticulating wildly. He's pushing his chair sideways into ours, and moving us in the process. He keeps narrowly missing our head with his free arm, too.

Maybe we're chatting with a taller colleague who seems to be looming over us while leaning in toward us. This isn't the trendy Sheryl Sandberg kind of leaning in; this colleague is actively invading our sense of personal space and making us physically want to back up. Into a corner. Ahh!

Maybe we watch a co-worker place hands on hips and legs in a dominating "V" stance as we mention there's cake in the break room. This co-worker stares at us silently like the Terminator. Was it something we said?**

Maybe our co-worker likes to pace back and forth while breathing heavily, tends to stand and stare like a statue, or has any myriad set of power posing mannerisms that capture the attention in a less-than-positive way.

If we're going to strike a power pose, then we need to make sure it is appropriate to the situation at hand and isn't so aggressive that it makes others uncomfortable. A few rules of thumb: If you're tall, don't loom too closely over someone smaller. Don't crowd out the person sitting next to you with your wide leg stance. Don't pace like a caged lion. Don't stare, or glare. Basically, don't be angry or creepy about it.

The most important thing we can do when we experience a co-worker's aggressive power posing is to simply see it for what it is: a visual power grab that is the other person's choice to make and our choice to ignore. We can live and let live while also choosing not to buy the image that he's selling.*** It's all for show.

When Power Posing Invades Your Personal Space
What if a co-worker's power posing invades our personal space, though? Ah, now we get down to it! Some power poses run the risk of getting right up in our grill, don't they? Etiquette experts suggest a two-foot radius as ideal when standing next to another person, so don't be afraid to adjust your position as necessary. You can also politely ask a co-worker to step back if you feel like they're encroaching on your personal space. If nothing works, then minimize interactions with this co-worker as much as possible.

If power posing works for you, then by all means do it! Just do it strategically, and sublimely, for maximum effect. Our best power poses should be reserved for the times when we don't want to look too reserved at work. Listening to a co-worker talk about his weekend? Feel free to hunch over. Listening to a potential client list the negatives of buying your product line? Strike a pose!

Whether we're running for POTUS or running a trade show booth, we need to make sure our power poses are working for us instead of working against us. Otherwise, we might strike out in the court of public opinion. Okay, I'll let you go power pose by the copier now.

** The cake is for closers, FYI.

*** And what he's selling is competence, confidence and power.


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