Success at work demands a high amount of self-confidence.
From tackling new projects to building important business connections, believing in yourself puts you at ease and creates a positive energy that draws people to you. In general, we become more comfortable and confident with the increasing number of successes under our belts … repetition and mastery help make us confident.
But for those of you new to the business world, and for most of the rest of us who still encounter new situations where we might feel uncertain, awkward … underinflated … in a room full of big personalities, there may be a way to jump-start that confidence.
Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at the Harvard Business School, is a proponent of fake it ’til you make it. She even takes that expression a step further to: fake it ’til you become it. Her body language research found actual physiological changes in her research subjects — an increase in testosterone and a decrease in the chemical associated with stress and anxiety — after these individuals stood or sat in one of several power poses.
Using powerful body language to make yourself appear more confident is nothing new. You’ve undoubtedly heard the confidence-conveying body language tips for stressful business situations or job interviews: lean forward, don’t cross your arms, keep your chin up, make eye contact. It’s a string of nonverbal cues designed to convince the people around you that you’re confident.
But according to Cuddy’s findings, powerful body language and behavior don’t just sway those around you; they can actually change the way you feel about yourself.
First, let’s review some body language tips:
- Posture. Author Barbara Pachter describes assertive posture: “To stand confidently, keep your legs aligned with your shoulders and your feet approximately four to six inches apart. Distribute your weight equally on both legs, keep your shoulders back — but not way back — and turn your body towards others.”
- Hands. Simplybodylanguage.com describes a few confident hand gestures, including the steeple, the reverse hand steeple, hands behind the back, hands in pockets showing thumbs, and hands behind your head. When not listening, use your hands to gesture and emphasize a point.
- Face. Eye contact is an important part of confident nonverbal communication. The recommended rule of thumb is to maintain eye contact 60%-70% of the time. Also, if you’re anxious, your facial expressions can become tight or frozen. Relax. Smile. (For more details on what your non-verbal expressions might be saying, check out Unspoken Communication.)
Cuddy’s research pushed past some of these typical body language tips to power poses —large, open stances or sitting postures that physically “inflate” us. You lean back in your chair, putting your hands behind your head; or maybe you’re standing, feet a bit apart, hands on your hips, or arms extended overhead — like a victorious athlete. Her research showed a definite body chemistry change and an associated confidence boost following two minutes in these positions. Test subjects were also more likely to take risks and were less stress reactive. They also received higher marks when evaluated by impartial judges.
Admittedly, jumping into a victorious athlete stance while in an interview is probably not going to get you that new job or promotion. But, finding time prior to the event might have merit. So, if you’re headed to an interview, big client meeting, or other stressful or evaluative work event, boost your confidence by striking a power pose for two minutes. Remind yourself of other successful outcomes you’ve had and tell yourself, “I can do this.” Your body can affect how you think and feel about yourself.