The Power Pose—Arms Akimbo.

Practical Applications for Body Language and the Emotional Indicators of Arms Akimbo

By David M. Schneer, Ph.D./CEO

4-Minute Read

Recently I wrote about the body language of legs apart and hooding as ways to make oneself look larger and hence, more important.

Here’s another posture called “Arms Akimbo”, and it is typically an indicator of confidence, dominance, power, or assertiveness. It looks like this:

If you want to test the power of this pose, do this: silently stand in front of a group of people and place your hands on your hips with your elbows pointing outwards. Pace a little. Chances are people will quiet down and pay attention.

Why? They’ve likely seen this power pose before. Perhaps first with a teacher or Principal at school or maybe later with police or military professionals. This stance is used to gain order and appear more “commanding.”

The Old Norse (North Germanic/Scandinavian dialect) language for “bent like a bow” is the word “akimbo”. Striking this pose is akin to an archer raising his bow in readiness. [1]

When I walk into a focus group or in-depth interview, I will adopt this pose so that the participants understand that I oversee the session.

However, in certain contexts, Arms Akimbo can convey different meanings. People will adopt this pose when they are:

  1. Frustrated: those whose progress has been thwarted in some way will adopt this stance in protest. This can be accompanied by scowls of anger or flashes contempt.
  2. Defensive: people who engage in arguments may strike this pose, again attempting to make themselves appear larger.
  3. Impatient: stand in line for a considerable period and you will see people adopt this pose to signal their impatience and perhaps to relieve the stress on their body.
  4. Intensely focused: When someone is intrigued, they will adopt this pose in response. Moreover, there is a variation of the Arms Akimbo that directly telegraphs a person’s interest. This is when a person puts their hands on their hips but has their thumbs pointing outwards. From the back, it looks like this:
  5. Trying to be Comfortable: Sometimes it just feels good to stand up and put your hands on your hips.

If you want to take command of a situation, you can adopt this pose and chances are people will fall in line.

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[1]             Axtel, Roger. The Do’s and Taboos Around the Word. John Wiley & Sons, 1998, page. 28.