Amy Cuddy, an expert on the behavioral science of power, presence, and prejudice, says it’s important to “press the pause button” when emotions run high in interactions with others.

Polarizing times call for thoughtful communication

GAC keynoter Amy Cuddy on effective body language and the dangers of adult bullying.

February 17, 2022

We live in an age defined by polarization, both politically and socially. Even with the best of intentions, our innate prejudices may invade our thought processes and communication with others.

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, bestselling author, and expert on the behavioral science of power, presence, and prejudice, shares how to minimize the effects of personal prejudices when interacting with others.

“We all have prejudices that direct our behavior toward each other, especially within the past five years,” says Cuddy, who will address the 2022 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., Feb. 27 to March 3. 

“People who have never been targets of stereotyping are suddenly targets,” she says. “We all are. Remember that when people make the wrong assumption about you based on a tiny piece of information such as your political party, religion, or what you do to make a living.”

Cuddy says we need to be aware of our prejudices when dealing with others, especially during highly charged interactions.

“I am a big believer in pausing and taking an extra minute or an extra day before acting on an impulse,” she says. “We have to be especially thoughtful now because emotions are running so hot. So when we interact with somebody and we're having a strong, emotional reaction, we need to press the pause button.”

Cuddy’s first book, “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges,” is a bestseller that’s been published in 35 languages.

‘I think about how I would want someone to treat my child.’
Amy Cuddy

She is currently writing her second book, “Bullies, Bystanders, and Bravehearts,” which delves into the psychological causes and consequences of bullying among adults, a pervasive and often devastating problem.

“Sometimes criticism feels hurtful, but that alone is not bullying,” Cuddy says. “Usually, bullying starts with an individual who has bad intentions and involves more than one person.”

Snarky tweets or jokes about a co-worker provide fodder for others to pile on, she notes.

“Those things can be really hurtful because they convey a dismissive, dehumanizing attitude toward another person,” Cuddy says “And when we laugh at that, we make it more okay to treat the person that way. And that's how bullies pick up momentum.”

Her advice for addressing workplace bullying stems from the Golden Rule with a maternal twist.

“When I think about my own behavior, I think about how I would want someone to treat my child,” she says. “That’s the standard I’m going to hold myself to.”

The Guardian named Cuddy’s 2012 presentation, “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are,” as “one of 20 online talks that could change your life.” It has been viewed more than 50 million times and is the second-most-viewed TED Talk.

Cuddy says people often draw their first impressions from others’ body language. They’re trying to assess how trustworthy and competent you are.

“This could be completely wrong, but they are using your body language to make those assessments,” she says. “They're making those assessments quickly, inferring trustworthiness first and strength or competence second.”

Cuddy says this is an evolutionary trait or survival mechanism humans developed to ascertain others’ intentions.

In today’s social context, effective body language conveys presence and engagement, she says.

“It involves actions like leaning forward and making good eye contact that's not domineering and responding nonverbally to what people are saying—showing that you’re listening,” Cuddy says. “Also, you want to have comfortable, open body posture. That conveys you are strong and that you have a grounded confidence.”

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