The working world is becoming increasingly diverse, day-by-day. The office has changed considerably since the “Mad-Men”-esque environment of the 50s and 60s. Not only are women now a larger part of the picture, but diversity extends to many other aspects: from more people of color, to an increase in accessibility for people with disabilities.
However, one thing that has not changed much since the “Mad Men” years is the emphasis placed on extroversion and confidence. Although some offices are beginning to recognize the benefit of having different personalities on the office floor, showing confidence through body language is still highly regarded. Perhaps this is why so many introverted individuals struggle to attain leadership roles in the office.
For many people who exude confidence, their body language can not only help them land a new job, but it can also provide them with more opportunities for raises, promotions, or advancement. It also helps when making first impressions. The reason behind this is simple: it’s all human nature. Luckily, you can also use your knowledge of body language to your advantage to change how you’re perceived.
Let’s looks at how you can bring more confidence into your life by controlling your body language. You may be surprised — even the most subtle and minor adjustments can make a major difference.
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How to Look Confident: Control Your Body Language
As Amy Cuddy explains in her Ted Talk about body language, appearing big and open is something that almost every animal in the world mimics to appear strong and intimidating — it’s a form of nonverbal communication that portrays power and dominance. For humans, appearing big and open can be a sign of power: both in the short term if they’re feeling confident in the moment, and in the personal interactions with others. It can greatly influence how others think and feel about you.
However, as Cuddy came to find in her research, nonverbal communication can also govern how you think and feel about yourself. Which means you have the unique ability to not only appear more confident to others, but if you practice powerful nonverbal language, you can actually feel more powerful. This is because your body language can determine what hormones are produced, and having a powerful pose can reduce the production of cortisol (the stress hormone) and increase the production of testosterone in some cases. In essence, you can hack your body through nonverbal language.
There are many different ways to do this, and Cuddy suggests “power posing” for two minutes before a stressful interview or work-event to help your body relax and prepare. The power pose is fairly simple: with your feet evenly spread, place your hands on your hips and raise your head high, breathing deeply and evenly. Picture a traditional superhero pose, as Cuddy demonstrates here:
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
With this simple pose, Cuddy argues you can actually decrease your stress due to the body reducing the production of the hormone cortisol, and feel more confident as your body produces more testosterone. Although there have been a few critique’s of Cuddy’s initial study, in March of 2018, Cuddy produced another study about “postural feedback” that helped uphold her claims. Power posing and adapting powerful postures can help you feel more powerful in the moment.
However, power posing isn’t the only way to hack your body language. Here are some other important body poses to try that can have a similar effect on your confidence:
When it came to Cuddy’s research, posture was a major focus. She found many postural parallels between humans and the animal kingdom. For example, often times people that lack confidence fold in on themselves. It’s a protective measure, and they might fold their arms around their chest, or place their hands protectively on their neck. Many animals do this as well: just picture the aardvark curling up in a tight ball when it’s scared or feels threatened.
Confident people and animals, on the other hand, open up their bodies and take up space. They might spread their legs or spread their arms. The most relaxed and powerful posture is sitting back, legs out, and your hands clasped behind your neck. This posture exudes confidence, power, or dominance — but it certainly isn’t appropriate for many workplace situations.
However, if you want to exude more confidence in your posture, there are some subtle ways to do so without taking up so much space. Here are some ways you can improve your posture while sitting or standing:
- Standing up or sitting up tall is important. If you’re hunched or slumped in your seat, it can seem standoffish or distant. However, if you keep your back straight, you’ll appear more alert and attentive. Additionally, leaning forward can make you appear more nervous, so try leaning back in your chair just a bit.
- Keeping your hands visible can also help. Hiding your hands (whether in the folds of your arms or your pockets) can appear nervous — as if you’re trying to hide something or avoid the conversation. If you show your hands and keep them marginally active during a conversation, you appear more open and confident. Additionally, try not to overdo the gesturing, and work on gesturing with your palms up to add some openness to your body language. Open palms can give an illusion of honesty.
Your facial expressions have a lot to do with how others perceive you, as your face can often easily give away your emotions. If you’re feeling timid or unsure about something, you might be frowning and looking down at your feet.
However, if you’re confident or excited about something, you might be lit up in the eyes, mouth, and with your chin up. You might gesture with your hands and make intense eye contact, possibly looking up on occasion.
If you want to hack your body language to appear more confident, it can be difficult to mask your emotions on your face. However, it’s not impossible. Here are some tricks to try to appear more self-assured:
- Eye contact is always essential, so try to maintain some level of eye contact with whomever you’re speaking with. Be sure not to lock eyes with them, as that can seem intimidating (animals that lock eyes with each other are often trying to start a fight, and you certainly don’t want to extend that message to people). However, if you can look at them from time to time, and occasionally look away — maybe to their hands, or your notes if you have some — then you can show interest in the conversation.
- Smiling is also important, and can even help you trick your body into feeling more comfortable. If you’re in an interview or at work, try to have a slight smile when speaking to help yourself feel more self-assured, and to help others feel more comfortable around you.
- Additionally, you should always keep your face and chin angled slightly up. People that are assured and confident always have their head looking up or straight ahead — not at their feet, the desk, or the ground. This can certainly be a hard habit to break, but if you can remind yourself to look up, make eye contact, and smile, then you can appear more assertive or confident to anyone.
The body language you exude when walking can also be hacked to help you feel more confident. People that are self-assured often walk with their head up, eyes forward, and in strong, wide steps. Less confident people often shuffle with their head down, trying to make quick movements that take up little space.
If you want to hack your walking body language, try these tricks:
- Plant your feet in a wide stance when standing, and take long strides when walking. This can be difficult for shorter people, but the same idea of taking wider steps can be applied — no matter how long your legs are. Make sure your steps are also surefooted, and not rushed or timid steps.
- Keep your head up high, and avoid looking at the ground (unless you’re on uneven terrain). While taking wide steps with your head facing forward, you’ll appear much more confident, and might even feel more comfortable than before.
Nervous Body Language: What to Avoid
When it comes to body language you should avoid, much of it can be summed up to the opposite of confident nonverbal communication. If you’re confident, your head will be high, hands by your side, with strong and sure footed steps when you walk. The opposite of that is a head looking down at the ground, arms crossed over your chest, with your gaze away, and small frenzied steps when walking.
However, there’s additional habits you should avoid. Mainly, try to avoid making nervous gestures, such as twitchy movements or shaky legs. It’s understandable that these nervous ticks might sneak out from time to time, but keeping a lid on them can not only help you appear more confident, but can help you overcome them over time, as well.
Next time you’re feeling nervous or anxious, try to dial into your body to recognize if you have any nervous habits or ticks. Additionally, take the time to really identify how your body is reacting. Is there a particular area of your body that is hurting? Do you feel tenseness in your neck or shoulders? Does your chest feel tight?
When you check in with your body, you can more accurately connect with your emotions and make an active effort to adjust your body language. Having that self-awareness is also an important (and often overlooked) aspect of self-care. Connecting with your body and staying mindful can help you overcome stressful interactions or calm down after an anxiety attack.
Hacking Your Body Language for More Confidence
Of course, talking about changing body language is much easier said than done. It can take time to really adjust and pick up more confident postures or mannerisms, and you shouldn’t push yourself if you have trouble making that adjustment. Instead, remember that confidence also comes with competence, and as you continue to grow or learn more about your industry, you will also grow more confident day-by-day.
If you’re struggling to exude confidence in the office, or are struggling with anxiety or stress that bleeds into your work and nonverbal communication, know that small subtle changes in your behavior can really make a difference. Take a few minutes to strike a power pose, or make an active effort to adjust your posture in a meeting. Over time, you’ll start to feel more confident, and you’ll realize that the power was inside you all along.
As Cuddy puts it, adjusting your body language won’t just help you “fake it till you make it”; it will help you “fake it until you become it.”
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