Never underestimate the power of standing up. We are taught that standing up is an expression of civility and a matter of etiquette, but the practice is rooted in the ages-old battle for power and dominance.
Psychologists know that physical height conveys power. If you’re seated and a customer or colleague approaches, the standee projects dominance over the seated person.
A mouse threatened by an approaching cat will bravely rear up on hind legs to appear larger and more intimidating. Hikers know that if they surprise a bear, they should make noise and raise their arms in an effort to look larger and more formidable. In the end, both the mouse and the hiker may get eaten, proving that no tactic is foolproof.
It used to be considered polite for seated gentlemen to stand when a woman entered a room. In reality, it was far more meaningful than a mere gesture of politeness or respect. By getting to their feet, the men (usually the taller gender) were asserting their dominance over the woman. Were they seated, a standing lady would assume the dominant position. To a sexist male, this is hardly an acceptable outcome. The practice isn’t as common today, either because we’re less formal or because it seems antiquated in a more gender-equal world.
In a meeting, people who remain seated while making presentations miss a golden opportunity to quite literally stand out from the crowd.
It’s natural to feel self-conscious and want to avoid having all eyes focused on you, and at first it can feel somehow presumptuous to present while standing while others presented sitting down. It’s natural, but it’s a feeling that can be overcome.
One of the surest ways to capture the attention of an audience – whether it’s a small group of colleagues or a hall full of potential customers – is to simply stand up. A person who stands when all others are seated instantly commands attention and asserts power and dominance.
Standing is a powerful signal. We’re saying: “Pay attention. This is important.” It’s a lesson we learned on the first day of school, when our teacher stood in front of the class.
Subconsciously, we ascribe attributes to a speaker who stands while we sit and listen: Leader. Power. Importance.
Isn’t control an advantage you’d like to have in business?
Standing up has other advantages as well: Many hoteliers start the day with a ‘stand up’ meeting between the general manager and the department heads. Meetings held standing up make a lot of sense – they telegraph the message that the meeting will be short as there’s a lot to do and time is at a premium. Some productivity experts theorize that more gets done in a five-minute stand-up than in a one-hour meeting. Sit-down meetings can be studies in inefficiency, as people straggle in, get coffee, chat, take calls, and generally get comfortable. Stand-ups use discomfort as an advantage: Nobody wants to stand for an hour.
In conversations, when handling problems or giving instructions, while negotiating or making an important report, stand up! Tip the psychological scale, and claim every advantage in your effort to make an impact.
Scott H. Lewis is managing director for Ukraine and the CIS for Signature Europe. A former journalist and public relations counselor, he has provided crisis, public speaking and presentation training to senior executives across Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. He is the author of “60 Seconds to ‘Wow!’,” a book on presentation skills. An American, he has lived in Kyiv, Ukraine for more than a decade.