We all know that people judge each other in the first five seconds they see each other. We talk about clothes, and weight , and tone of voice. But you can also judge someone by their walk.

Don't tell me this is shallow. You can't help but judge people by their gait. But the good news is that we are very good at judging people on first impressions (sponsor link: download movies). It's probably a survival skill we developed very early on as humans — before you could Google someone to know their credibility. And when it comes to gait, it is possible that we each have a unique gait, like a unique thumbprint. (Yes, people are developing security technology based on gait: Cool, right?)

I am convinced that you can change how you function in the world by changing your gait. We already know that people with the most control over their image work hard on understanding the body language they project. For example, if you feel defensive, resist the temptation to fold your arms in front of your chest and the person you're talking to will think you are listening better. And, in fact, you will be listening better because based on your physical urge to fold your arms you gained intellectual awareness that you are feeling defensive.

Scientists have taken body language analysis one step forward and found systematic ways to describe how gait relates to mood. The first career coach I ever had used this science. She taught me how to change my walk in order to exude more authority. I was a young upstart bouncing around the office and needed to look grounded. She showed me how to shift my center of gravity to lower in my body. And, in the process of changing my gait, she actually did change the way I approached people — I exuded more authority.

So here are personality traits that we reveal in how we walk. In each case, researchers have found that if you change the way you walk, you can change how you are living.

1. How well you think abstractly and plan in flexible ways.
Researchers found that you can look at the fluidity of a person's gait to gauge the person's executive function. This is someone's ability to look at range of issues and figure out what to do first, how to orchestrate a to-do list or a set of competing priorities. You can see this is people with Asperger Syndrome, or, the stereotypical eccentric genius. Their brain is working fine in terms of IQ, but their executive function is poor (Einstein couldn't manage to comb his hair), and so, too is their gait. You can go to physical therapy to smooth out your gait, and, in children, this process has been shown to improve executive function.

2. How well you play with others.
When it comes to understanding what people are feeling by watching what their hands are doing, the best book is The Definitive Book of Body Language. And while you might be able to control your hands when you are sitting still (few people will bite their nails at a conference table, for example), hands are harder to control when people are walking. Someone who is walking with hands behind the back, is probably angry or frustrated. Hands in pockets conveys dejection. Clenched fists usually mean resisting others' opinions.

3. How outgoing you are.
Some people write about how people who are pigeon-toed are introverts. The research, I have to say, is not that convincing. But we intuitively believe this, if you think about it, because of all the visual stereotyping we do about pigeon-toed children and submissive women. And, frankly, I always think there is some truth to stereotyping, even though I know it's not politically correct.

4. (If you’re a woman) how easily you have an orgasm.
Proving that stereotyping about gait is on target, it turns out that women who have a stride similar to models on a runway orgasm more easily. Really. There is convincing research to show that how long a woman's stride is and how much a woman's hips open while she walks indicates her ability to have a vaginal orgasm. People who were trained to judge a woman's ability to reach orgasm by how she walked were able to judge it at an 80% success rate.

What should you do with this research? Women, if you were doubting that changing your walk can change your life, the research also shows that if change how you walk you can make yourself orgasm more easily. And for the men: The London Times reports that the men who are best at giving women orgasms are also the richest men, so if you are thinking you want to make a lot of money in your career, maybe you should pay attention to the research about gait.

36 replies
  1. Jimmy
    Jimmy says:

    Penelope, are these studies cited determining correlation or causation?

    Also, as someone who has hired a career coach in the past, are you aware of any studies that set out to determine ROI? I’ve discussed these things, on an anecdotal basis only, with others and have found no one who can quantify an ROI. I’d be interested in how dollars and time spent on career coaching relate to total assets after debt, both before and after the coaching and how that compares to those who don’t make the same investment.

    Jimmy

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think you don’t need to measure ROI. You need to know that just about all senior executives and high-potential middle managers get coaching, often paid for by the company. If you want to compete at that level, you need to make sure you get it.

      People who are great at getting what they want from their career are top performers. And top performers are people who are great at identifying their weaknesses and figuring out how to work around them. This is very, very hard to do once you are in the realm of all top performers. It’s fine-tuning things that already are in the top 10% of all performers. So you need help doing it.

      Here’s how to tell if you’re a high-potential employee: Ask yourself would you jump at the chance to get coaching? If you answer no, then you’re doomed.

      –Penelope

  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    You’ve written a very informative post on how you can change your life by changing how you walk. I hear you on all this research and the studies and articles linked to in this post.
    The following lines from the movie Wall Street stuck with me after watching the movie and what came to my mind after reading this post.
    Carl Fox: He’s using you, kid. He’s got your prick in his back pocket, but you’re too blind to see it.
    Bud Fox: No. What I see is a jealous old machinist who can’t stand the fact that his son has become more successful than he has!
    Carl Fox: What you see is a guy who never measured a man’s success by the size of his WALLET!
    Bud Fox: That’s because you never had the GUTS to go out into the world and stake your own claim!
    [Long Pause]
    Carl Fox: Boy, if that’s the way you feel, I must have done a really lousy job as a father.

  3. Jimmy
    Jimmy says:

    Penelope,
    Thanks for your response. However, I think that the logic is dubious at best. To cite my own experiences, I work both a corporate job and do stand up comedy – however through hard work and luck, I’m financially secure and if I decided to stop working could support myself comfortably for the remainder of my life, but I’m super competitive and love making money (well I love spending a lot of time in France and Costa Rica anyway, and that costs money). I’ve never paid for coaching for my corporate role, but have continued to advance quicker than my peers and out earn them by a significant margin. I am not particularly handsome, I’m only 5’8, I’m a not an amazing lover, I walk like a shave ape, but I’m at the top of my game and am compensated accordingly (and provide a quantifiable ROI to my employer. I did want to be a better comedian and increase my earnings so I did invest in training through Second City. I documented what I spent, and measured it against my what I earned. First year was only a 2:1 return, but that has sinced increased significantly.
    That being said, I don’t feel that the drive to accept coaching is any indicator of a succesful person. I think there may be some correlation, but it is not causal to success. I think that self actualized individuals “respond” to coaching, and that makes the difference. I think a greater agrument can be made for a causal agrument of self actualiztion and success, and that needs to be made first before other variables are considered.

    I only intended to leave my two cents, but I think I left 8.

    Please keep up the great work, I enjoy your blog and the Brazencareerist website a great deal.

    Jimmy

  4. JenK
    JenK says:

    (Yes, people are developing security technology based on gait: Cool, right?)

    Heh. I wonder how the algorithm adapts to muscle stiffness and/or arthritis … you know, how you’re a bit stiff when you first stand after a couple hours at a desk, but then stride quite briskly once you’ve “unbent” a bit?

  5. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    Because of injuries and multiple surgeries, I still have noticible limp after years of rehab and therapy. It’s been a challenge just to be able to walk again without aid of a cane, crutch or walker.

    I still don’t have the gait I did when I was younger, and there’s no way I’ll ever have a normal gait, given the realities of medical technology.

    So does this mean I’ll always be judged as a cripple, someone who doesn’t “have it” as far as authority, no matter how well I do in my job as an executive?

  6. Jame
    Jame says:

    Hmm interesting. Improve your walk, improve your life. I think I’ll start practicing now. No wonder my mom was lecturing me when I was 8 on walking with my head down. Long stride = confidence, in and out of the bedroom.

  7. Moshe Zadka
    Moshe Zadka says:

    I can’t help but think of the following quote:

    “My social studies teacher, Ms Galvez, rolled her eyes at me and I rolled my eyes back at her. The Man was always coming down on me, just because I go through school firewalls like wet kleenex, spoof the gait-recognition software, and nuke the snitch chips they track us with. Galvez is a good type, anyway, never holds that against me (especially when I’m helping get with her webmail so she can talk to her brother who’s stationed in Iraq).”
    — Cory Doctorow, “Little Brother”, http://craphound.com/littlebrother/Cory_Doctorow_-_Little_Brother.htm

    If you read all the way to Schneier’s afterword, he points out some of the security context of that quotation :)

  8. Shelley
    Shelley says:

    pigeon toed is also associated with athletic ability. Some of the best athletes, especially football players, have marked pigeon toes.

  9. Budgie
    Budgie says:

    So appearing to orgasm easily is a good thing???

    No wonder taking up salsa dancing did such a lot for my social life!

  10. Jamie Varon
    Jamie Varon says:

    Women, if you were doubting that changing your walk can change your life, the research also shows that if change how you walk you can make yourself orgasm more easily.

    Yes, PLEASE!

    • Zak
      Zak says:

      Hmmm – I wonder if there is any sort of male gait that would indicate a person who is susceptible to premature orgasms.

      Zak

  11. Zak
    Zak says:

    "And, frankly, I always think there is some truth to stereotyping, even though I know it's not politically correct."

    Not to go too far off topic, but you are right – €“ stereotypes exist because there is a kernel of truth to them. If there was not a kernel of truth, stereotypes would not make any sense. They would be … what, non sequiturs, I think.

    “Eskimos earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”

    Doesn’t make sense. But switch Eskimo (Inuit, to be PC) and replace it with Jews and voila, this stereotype makes sense. But, like all stereotypes, there are of course many, many exceptions.

  12. curiously random
    curiously random says:

    You lost me at the orgasm bit. Maybe I should take my hands out of my pockets.

    But seriously, that whole hip sway, sashay down the runway walk has always turned my stomach. How is that sexy? It’s not even realistic. And now I know why I don’t find it sexy:

    Finally I can be grateful that I was raised my a marathon runner and not a runway model. Woohoo!

  13. curiously random
    curiously random says:

    oh carp, I haven’t figured out those stupid block quote things yet. Here it is:

    Lead researcher Stuart Brody suggests that vaginally orgasmic women do not have blocked pelvic muscles. Because of this, the way they walk is natural. Put another way, the orgasmic walk is not a contrived – €˜sexy’ walk, it’s more along the lines you would see from Heidi Klum on the catwalk – high energy, confident and naturally sensual.

  14. J
    J says:

    So I’m all about the orgasm factoid, but as a member of a minority group about which a ridiculous amount of negative sterotypes abound, i’m a bit offended. For example, everyone tends to get a bit sleepy after a large meal but you really only hear that said about one group of people so I can’t call that ‘truth’. I call it perception. And I know very well how important perception is, but just because someone beleives I’m lazy doesn’t make it so.

  15. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Penelope,
    I just want to validate your conclusion. During the past 12 months, I can only remember one time that I failed to achieve orgasm. That time, we had stand up comedy on to mask any noise because my in-laws were staying in our guest room, which is right next to the master bedroom.

    My husband mentioned your blog to me. He finds this subject amusing, but says that yes, I do have a very long stride. In fact, although I am shorter than him, and he runs marathons, he can’t keep up with me when we walk together. Oh, and by the way, I walk with a cane. I have a balance problem resulting from water on the brain.

    Thanks. This was very interesting, and entertaining.

  16. Reality Check
    Reality Check says:

    Sigh, back to random drivel.

    As it relates to impressions:

    1. Look clean: get your clothes pressed, keep yourself tidy.
    2. Stand up straight
    3. Look people in the eye
    4. Be respectful of everyone
    5. Think before you speak.

    Walking upright may exude authority, but it doesn’t actually change anything. Actually, if you assume you can demand more authority and respect from your gait (or something just as trivial), you are usually a pain in the ass to the rest of us. It’s just like the kool-aid drinkers who feel like wearing a tie (in a casual environment) somehow makes them more eligible for moving up. Right.

    Show me don’t tell me. Earn it by being competent.

  17. DN
    DN says:

    Penelope,

    I’m curious how shoe choice, especially for women, plays into this? I’ve always been told that women should always wear heels in the office, but I swear I’m my most assertive on Casual Friday, when I’m wearing jeans and cowgirl boots. (If I have to ask a favor or have a tough conversation, I always try to do it on a Friday!)

    Do you think high heels help or hurt in the workplace?

  18. diana
    diana says:

    Fascinating. I’ve long been able to read people by their walk and body language. I agree with most of what you’ve written. I have no doubt that consciously working to change your walk, is no more radical than an executive (or would-be exec) working with a voice coach to project a more confident voice. We’ve all seen the change in demeanor in someone who has recently cut their hair short, or lost weight, or had a makeover. What we project is usually what we get back, and in turn it changes our behavior.

    As far as the women’s “walk”, all I can say.. is that my walk (long strides, natural sway) has been cited as the first thing that attracted someone to me. Of course, then the face and brains have to do the rest of the work. LOL.

  19. Zak
    Zak says:

    I once read somewhere that high heels are designed to make a woman walk in a slightly awkward manner, a little off balance, to make her appear a little vulnerable. This perceived vulnerability, in turn, is supposed to elicit in men a protective instinct to want to – €˜help' the damsel in distress.

    If that's true, it would seem to me that high heels do not make a woman come off as a confident professional.

    Full disclosure: I am short women in high heels only make me feel shorter. I might have my own biases against high heels!

    Zak

    • diana
      diana says:

      Zak- That is exactly what high heels are designed to do. I know that everyone is buying up the 4, 5, and 6, inch heels now, but I think they’re just further thrusting women into a role of helpless show pieces. Hard to be hard charging when you can barely walk because your foot is totally extended in a 5-inch heel. You know, like how can a women run for office if we can’t even run for a cab?

      Of course we won’t even go into the permanent damage being done to their feet and backs (but they’ll figure that out when they hit their late 30s.)

      Just give us sexy, powerful, shoes with 3 inch heels or less. Walking as though we’re in a high wire act is not empowering.

  20. curiously random
    curiously random says:

    My own son (age 11) jumps in to help me out sometimes with the phrase “I can do that for you, I’m not wearing heels” as if I were about to topple over.

    I’m in boots with a solid heel, designed by one of those boring-walking-shoe companies, not Jimmy Choos, darling. I CAN change a spare tire or shift a heavy box without falling on my ass. Well, almost.

  21. Meitar Moscovitz
    Meitar Moscovitz says:

    There is theory and there is practice.

    As much as it pains me to admit it, many people turn stupid things into truths by being consistently, unstoppably stupid. Case in point: anchor text on web sites that says, “click here” was, at first, provably bad and not useable, and as more and more people started to use such provably bad and not useable anchor text, the tide began to shift and before we know it, using link text like “click here” is nearly a requirement to get people to click on links.

    I like your posts a lot, Penelope, and I don’t doubt that body language has a huge impact on the way we communicate with others and represent ourselves, but the very dubious gender stereotypes you seem to be perpetuating in this post makes this one nudge me dangerously close to the, “Maybe I shouldn’t read her blog anymore” decision. FWIW, the “wealthy men give women more orgasms” study is riddled with problems, despite being widely syndicated.

  22. Dale
    Dale says:

    Sometimes in pretending we help ourselves believe that things are better than they are. When I’m depressed, I can get an almost immediate boost by acting confident, which includes walking confidently.
    It takes a little time to work though and depending on the circumstances may not always work, but when there is nothing else, you have nothing to lose. Fool others by your demeanor, and sometimes you also fool/convince yourself.
    My2centsworth:)

  23. virginia
    virginia says:

    Penelope,
    Get real. How do you think researchers determined a woman’s ability to have a vaginal orgasm related to stride length and who are these researchers? The definitive research shows that vaginal orgasims are kind of a myth. If your stride is shorter does that mean you are more likely to have a clitoral orgasm? Is it due to friction and quicker repetitions of short striders?

    As for the heels and vulnerability question, put a man in 4 inch stilletos and tell me, does he look powerful or vulnerable?

    I love your blogs. Whether conveying credible information or out in left field, they are usually entertaining.

  24. Daddio
    Daddio says:

    One of the first things I learned from my life-partner (over 40 years ago, was the importance of gait. She had the uncanny ability to recognize people long before their face was visible, by their gait. She’s a sociologist-turned-modern dancer-turned-musician and now a homeopath, btw, and an amazing intuitive.

    I owe to her the time I’ve spent working on posture, body language, and gait, and those have contributed to a successful leadership career. Thanks for this.

  25. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    The other day, my neighbour said that when I am going somewhere, he is afraid to stop me and say hello (their kids always do, but that is another matter) because I walk so purposefully.

    Now I wonder what I should read into the comment, if anything :-)

  26. David Aughenbaugh
    David Aughenbaugh says:

    I have two problems with this idea. One is that we also judge people on whether they are authentic. The other is that just because two things are closely associated, it doesn’t mean that one caused the other. (correlation versus causation.)

    “People with a cold sneeze a lot” Therefore you can give yourself a cold by sneezing a lot. It just doesn’t work that way.

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