One of my close friends alerted me to Amy Cuddy’s TEDTalk on body language. I’d seen her research before, and actually have used some of her suggestions in my own preparations for classes and speeches, but I’d never had the chance to hear her speak. This talk is something everyone should watch — but especially my students.
I emphasize in my classes that students must learn to take risks and speak in class. I tell them that they need to become comfortable with this, because they will be put on the spot throughout their careers. The law school classroom, I explain, is a relatively safe place to make mistakes and get used to speaking, on short notice, about issues.
I get a lot of resistance from some students. The law school class is intimidating. They are just beginning to learn a new area. They don’t think well on their feet. They will embarrass themselves in front of their peers.
All of that is true. If it weren’t, my students wouldn’t need law school. But that doesn’t change the basic point: we need to become comfortable with stressful situations.
Amy Cuddy’s research addresses this point. In a brief, 20-minute video, she illustrates simple posture steps one can take to increase one’s ability to handle stress. I’d like to see all of my students practicing these steps before class, before exams, before interviews, and before confrontations.
To my students: I know you are being taught to think skeptically and critically. You might think Cuddy’s suggestions are simple, obvious, or silly. Until you have tried them with an open mind or evaluated her underlying data in some depth, don’t dismiss it. One thing lawyers forget is that the conscious mind is a relatively minor part of a human’s information processing system. I’ve discussed this in prior posts (like this one). We lawyers tend to think that far too much is controlled by conscious decision-making. In fact, our legal system is premised on it. It’s always worth questioning how much of that premise holds true in light of contemporary neuroscience and psychology.