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What is Poise?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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The word “poise” has a number of meanings, though the most common usage of the word in general conversation is often used in reference to a person and is typically intended to mean that the person demonstrates self-assuredness or composure. This is often used in a complimentary manner to show regard toward a person who has demonstrated behavior similar to “grace under pressure,” though it can be used in an ironic way through sarcasm. Poise can also be used to describe the position of an object as it relates to another object, or to describe a suspension of motion or a moment between two different types of motion. The term is also used in physics as a unit of measurement for dynamic viscosity.

Typically, poise is used to describe someone who has been somewhat tested in terms of his or her self-confidence or composure and demonstrated respectable behavior. For example, if someone was the victim of a violent crime and testified against his or her attacker, then while on the stand the victim could be made to look like he or she deserved to be attacked by the defense attorney. If that person remained calm and under control during the process, answering questions and maintaining discipline in his or her actions, then he or she would be described as having poise.

Less extreme situations can also demonstrate that a person has poise, such as staying calm in a traffic jam, being polite toward someone who has insulted him or her, and remaining focused during emergencies. The word poise can also be used to describe how something is located in relationship to something else and often is used to demonstrate balance. For example, someone could say that “the book was poised upon the shelf, until it was bumped and began to wobble in a precarious manner.”

Poise can also be used to describe a moment of pause in motion, such as hovering or wavering slightly in the midst of other movements. For example, if someone threw a ball into the air then caught it, he or she could say that “the ball poised in the air for just a moment, pausing between its gentle rise and the inevitable fall back to Earth.” In physics, the word poise is used as a unit of measurement in regards to dynamic viscosity, but is named after the French physician Jean Louis Marie Poiseuille who studied how human blood flows through constricted tubes.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1003603 — On Jul 29, 2020

The art of poise is one that's gradually diminishing in its relevance in present day society, where a poised person might be regarded as snobbish and a sloucher seen as easy going.

Poise is a quality that goes beyond your posture and actually mirrors your state of mind.

It's a defining and outstanding quality everyone should possess, your poise says more about you than you'd get a chance to say in a conversation.

Be poised for the next best thing. Cheers.

By blackDagger — On Jul 03, 2011

While it is absolutely impossible to remain poised all of the time, there are those times when remaining calm in a bad situation can make you stand out head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.

Poise is often a clear marker of real leaders. It is often assumed that leaders are those who are the loudest and most obnoxious among us. However, put those same cackling hens and strutting roosters in a high pressure situation and see how they manage.

Now, take that quiet and calculating person and put them in the same environment. You will find that nine times out of ten the true leader will emerge in the form of a person who knows how to hold their own and not just talk about it.

By mabeT — On Jul 02, 2011

I must say that poise is one thing that it is greatly lacking among many folks in our society today. It seems as if anyone can behave just about any way, and it’s okay. Sorry, ladies and gents, it is anything but all right.

I try to make sure that my children understand that mommy might be upset and mommy might be angry, but she will have poise and self-control until the situation calls for a more extreme measure. They will do as I do.

I want them to understand that it is not okay to go ranting on television (Charlie Sheen) because you are affluent and it is not okay to go on television and whine because you are not (pick somebody off the daily news).

We really need to relearn the art of holding our own and holding our head up even when we have every reason in the world to do anything but.

By whiteplane — On Jul 01, 2011

Hemingway had a great way of describing poise. In many of his novels he talks about characters having "grace under pressure." I think that is a great way to put it is. Reacting well to difficult circumstances. Whenever things get rough in my life I think about that phrase and try to make it my goal. Find some grace, get through the pressure.

By BoniJ — On Jul 01, 2011

I just love the study of words, especially those that have several different meanings and an interesting history.

One meaning of the word poised has to do with people or objects being in a position for some kind of action or movement. For example: The soldiers were poised for attack. They were waiting for their orders. The football players were poised for the kick-off. The wedding party was poised on the steps of the church waiting for the music to begin.

When talking about objects, we could say - the book was poised on her head a short time before it slid off.

By BabaB — On Jul 01, 2011

To me, the sound of the word "poise" conveys the meaning of the word, just by the way it sounds. When someone tells you that you were very poised in that situation, the compliment and the sound of the word makes one feel good.

When an interviewee is going through a job interview, he/she can come off as being very poised. To show poise, you need to enter the room with good posture, smile, be gracious with your greeting and shake hands.

During the interview, keeping your head up and having eye contact with the interviewer helps a lot to show that you are self-assured. Interrupting and asking too many questions shows a lack of poise. Showing interest in the job, but being honest in a polite way, shows poise. And, of course, a "thank you" and a firm handshake at the end of the interview is the way to go. Try not to trip over the chair leg - not a sign of poise! But, if you do trip, gracefully upright yourself, smile and make a little joke - you've restored your poise.

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