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Just in time for the New Year—we have breaking news in research about how to achieve success and stay on message. First, Mom was right (again)! Stand up straight! And stop talking so much with your hands! It’s distracting.

While Mom was right about that first one (stand up straight!) she was wrong about the reasons we want you to rein in the second one. But let’s leave Mom alone and get to the research.

New research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University shows the importance of posture. We’ve written before about ‘power poses’ and this research is an extension of that work.

The researchers in this case found that if you use “posture expansiveness” (positioning oneself in a way that opens up the body and takes up space) you activate a sense of power within yourself. Your physical positioning thus communicates with your brain and you behave more confidently, powerfully and believably.

Thus, your presentation in front of the jury will be more purposeful, confident and (hopefully) more convincing.

A second pair of researchers out of the University of Chicago focused on both how action affects thought and their prior work on gesturing. They had participants explain to each other how they moved the stacked disks in the Tower of Hanoi game from one peg to another. It is almost impossible to explain this without using your hands. Then they changed the weight of the disks so that some participants could only use one-handed gestures to explain the process. They found that the act of gesturing actually changed how the participants were thinking and solving the puzzle. Those who could only use one hand (due to the heaviness of the weights) were slower to explain the game to each other. “Gestures make the thought concrete, bringing movement to the activity going on in your mind.”

Now this one is tricky. If gesturing makes your thoughts evolve and modify—it might also make it hard to stay on message at trial. You want to be careful about how you use gesturing. Perhaps it is fine for explaining physical movements of objects—as an illustrator. But it may be better to minimize your physical hand movements while doing your opening and closing statements to stay on message.

So watch your hand gestures to stay on message and position yourself to take up space and activate your power. (Unless you are sharing an airplane row with me, in which case you will only activate my sense of irritation and desire to whack you.)

Susan Goldin-Meadow, & Sian L. Beilock (2010). Action’s Influence on Thought: The Case of Gesture. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5 (6)

Huang L, Galinsky AD, Gruenfeld DH, & Guillory LE (2011). Powerful postures versus powerful roles: which is the proximate correlate of thought and behavior? Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 22 (1), 95-102 PMID: 21149853

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You probably intuited this already but age is simply not settling well on our largest generation. From the exuberance of youth (“don’t trust anyone over 30”) to the contemplation of approaching 65—Boomers feel anxious about their futures. They are afraid they will outlive Medicare.  But that isn’t all that is vexing the Boomers. A recent report published by the Pew Organization shows that Boomers are, in general, more downbeat than other age groups about the future of the nation as well as the anticipated trajectory of their own lives.

Compare the generational numbers for agreement with the following perspective:

“I am dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country today”

Silent and Greatest Generations (65 and older): 76%
Boomers: 80%
Generation X (ages 30 to 45): 69%
Millennials (ages 18 to 29): 60%

We Boomers are simply glum. More glum—it should be pointed out—than our own parents.

We are the new ‘grumpy old men and women’. We have become ‘the man’ (sic). We are more likely to say we have been hurt financially by the current recession and more likely to say we are cutting back. We are less religious than our parents and more religious than our children. We still see ourselves as young with the average Boomer saying “old age begins at 72” but we have lost our optimism for the future.

One of our (Boomer) clients had a great line in a mock trial from this summer: “What has become of our country?” It resonated with the mock jurors. It would likely resonate with Boomers. And it is likely what our parents (the Silents and the Greatest Generation) thought when we were young adults.

So, what’s the point? The point is that we have to take a step back and see what is happening to our country as part of a natural process. Time passes. New generations emerge. Older generations step back. We Boomers do not like to step back. And while (we sure think) it isn’t yet time for us to step back completely—it is time for us to stop taking hammers to the hands of those attempting to climb the ladder behind us.

We’ve written about Millennials (aka Gen Y) extensively. (See our papers on generational characteristics and on effective management strategies for Millennial/Gen Y employees.)  We do not pretend to understand them entirely. And there are certainly things to be concerned about in the country and in our financial futures. But spreading gloom and doom around us is not an effective way to live happily. Discouraging others from working hard and achieving simply because they are young is not a way to keep Medicare (or some form of health coverage) solvent. We were mentored as young people. And those mentors often shook their heads. It’s time for us to step up. Boomers as mentors. Not as grumpy old men and women.

D’Vera Cohn, & Paul Taylor (2010). Baby Boomers Approach 65 – Glumly. Pew Research Center

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