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Whilst much of what we want to communicate to others takes the form of the spoken word, there is no denying that body language plays an important role in interpersonal dynamics. Making a few changes to the way you move and hold yourself, greatly influences the way in which other people perceive you. This module will tell you exactly what you must do, in order to convey an impression of confidence.

The power of faking it – the Facial Feedback Hypothesis
The old saying “fake it until you make it” has enjoyed recent scientific support. Over the past twenty years, psychologists have discovered that how you position yourself has a real effect on the way you feel and act. For instance, if you force your face into a smile before reading a cartoon, you will believe it to be more amusing than if you view it with a neutral face. In other words, whilst our behaviours and facial expressions are dictated to a large extent by our thoughts, it is also true that our facial expressions can provide feedback to our brains, which results in a change of mood. This is known as the Facial Feedback Hypothesis.

This is great news, if you are looking to make yourself feel more confident. Just by adjusting the way you move and the expression on your face, you can effect significant changes to the way you feel. You can try this briefly right now. Sit up straight in your chair and force your face into a smile. Relax your gaze and look forwards. How do you feel? Now sit slumped over, forcing your face into a frown. Wait a couple of minutes. How is your mood now?

The importance of good posture
When you think of the phrase “a confident person”, how do you imagine them to stand? Chances are that you think of such an individual as walking with a straight back, head held high, with a steady forward-looking gaze. This kind of posture communicates an easy confidence and a sense of purpose. By contrast, someone who walks along with their eyes down, or shoulders slumped, will not appear confident.

How are you sitting or standing at this moment in time? Adjust your posture, if necessary, so that you give an impression of confidence. If you have gotten into the habit of slumping or slouching, this may feel strange at first. You can use a mirror to see how good posture “feels”, so you know what it’s like for future reference.

A good way to immediately correct your posture and stand taller is to imagine a piece of string or a cord running down the length of your spine and up through the ceiling. Imagine that someone is pulling on this string, forcing you to stand in an upright position. You can also try this exercise, whilst sitting down. Not only will it help you appear more confident, but it is also good for your back!

Shake hands like a confident person
When someone initiates a handshake, grasp their hand firmly and shake it for a couple of seconds, before releasing it. As you do so, look them in the eye and smile. This communicates to the other party that you believe yourself worthy of being listened to.

Use eye contact appropriately
Eye contact is a key element in non-verbal communication. When you look someone in the eye, you are communicating that you are being open with them, wish to show them respect and have nothing to hide. When you greet someone, hold their gaze for a couple of seconds, as you smile. This conveys friendly intentions, whilst also making it clear that you are not intimidated by them.

However, take care not to engage in prolonged eye contact. Staring into someone’s eyes for more than a couple of seconds at a time, without a break, crosses the line from “confident” to “scary” or “inappropriate”. Instead, let your gaze move from their eyes to their mouth and back again. You need to give the impression that you are highly interested in what they have to say, but are not closely watching their every move.

Do not fidget
There are many perfectly valid reasons for fidgeting or twitching, that have little to do with a person’s level of confidence. For instance, a room may be hot and you may be fiddling with your collar as a result. You may have a cold - and so begin fiddling with your pockets, as you look for a tissue.

Unfortunately, research suggests that even though fidgeting isn’t necessarily a sign of a liar or nervous person, it is frequently interpreted as communicating unease or dishonesty. So when you are in a high-stakes situation, or are keen to convey a high level of confidence, do everything within your power to avoid fidgeting. Sometimes it can be worth suppressing the urge to scratch your itchy nose or loosen an article of clothing, if it helps you seal a deal or cement an important relationship. If you absolutely must engage in any fidget-like behaviours, such as rooting around in your pockets for a handkerchief, do it unapologetically - and in such a way that makes it clear you are not nervous. Act decisively - and with the minimum of fuss.

Smile like a confident person
Have you ever seen someone try to appear more confident than they feel, by smiling, only to flash an uneasy, nervy smile that makes them appear even more timid? Don’t make this mistake. Yes, if you want to seem confident and at ease in a social situation, you will need to smile. If you feel nervous, this will mean “faking it” to some degree. However, the trick to a convincing smile is a slight delay. Do not flash an inane grin. Instead, meet the gaze of the recipient, then allow a smile to spread slowly across your face. This will make you appear much more genuine.

Adopt an open, rather than closed, body position
Confident people demonstrate that they are at ease in a situation and have nothing to hide, by displaying “open” body positioning. Typically, someone sitting in an open position will have their legs uncrossed, knees close together or apart, but never pressed tightly. They will not fold their arms, but, rather, rest their hands in their lap. This communicates to those around them that they feel no need to defend themselves, either physically or psychologically.

In contrast, “closed” body positions are those that somehow shield an individual’s body from the onlooker. The classic example is a pair of crossed arms and legs. This combination speaks a clear message – “I don’t want anyone to come near me - and I certainly don’t want anyone to challenge me!” This may communicate a kind of confidence – if defensiveness can be classed as confident – but will not endear you to other people. Your default stance should be open and relaxed.

Those perceived to be truly confident are often considered great listeners, who take the time to understand what another person is saying. Mirroring is an easy way to convey that you are in tune with what your conversation partner is thinking and saying. Basically, your task is to subtly mimic their body language. For example, if they begin to twirl a lock of hair around one finger, wait a few moments and then do the same. If they shift their weight in their chair and then uncross their legs, count to ten slowly before re-adjusting yourself, so that your body positioning mirrors their own. Don’t overdo the mirroring – there is no need to mimic every movement - and doing so will make you appear sycophantic or eccentric. Be selective.

Using all the senses to grab attention
Remember that humans have five senses – touch, smell, taste, sight and sound. If you are in a situation in which you want to grab peoples’ attention and convey an impression of confidence, try to engage them on each of these levels.

Touch – Be sure to shake hands in a confident manner. Aside from handshakes, touch must be used sparingly and appropriately. It is generally considered inadvisable and unprofessional to touch someone you do not know, especially in the workplace. However, occasionally touching someone on the forearm to show empathy, or to emphasise your point, can work well. Use your discretion and if in doubt, don’t touch!

Smell – Take care of your personal hygiene – confident people smell good! Consider finding a signature scent or cologne to wear on a regular basis that makes you feel good. When you feel confident in yourself, others will pick up on these signals and you will be perceived as a more assertive individual. A distinctive scent can also be a great conversation starter.

Taste – Although you cannot employ this sense directly when in conversation with other people, you can engage their taste buds during important meetings, or on social occasions. There is a good reason why people who bake good cakes are popular in offices worldwide – everyone loves a tasty treat. If you can, keep a few sweets in a jar on your desk. This will encourage people to stop by and talk to you on a frequent basis, which, in turn, will help you foster positive relationships with others.

Sight – Monitor your posture carefully, to ensure that it is adequately confident. Take care of your personal appearance. Doing so conveys an impression of self-esteem, a signal others can - and will - pick up on, when deciding what kind of person you are and how they are going to treat you.

Sound – Keep your speaking voice level. Use appropriate inflections in tone, to communicate intent and mood. For instance, raising your voice at the end of a question emphasises the fact that you expect an answer.

Recruit a partner for this exercise. One person will play the role of someone interviewing for a job position and the other will play the interviewer. Have the interviewer ask a few basic questions, such as “Why do you want this job?” and “What do you know about the role?” Let the person playing the interviewee experiment with their body language. How confident do they feel, when they have good posture - and how do their feelings change, when they allow themselves to slump in their seat? Now swap roles. Compare notes on your experiences.

8. Receiving and Coping With High Impact Conversation

Regardless of our profession, most of us will have to take part in high impact conversation. These interactions are high-stakes occasions, in which important information is transmitted. Examples of high-impact conversations are as follows:

Discussions regarding job role changes.
Discussions regarding company relocation.
Discussion concerning company restructure.
Disciplinary discussions.
High-level budget meetings.
Significant changes in company policy.
Discussions around changes to an individual’s job role or promotion.

Taking part in these discussions can be a stressful prospect. You may worry about the consequences, in terms of your job, lifestyle, or changes to your stress levels. Therefore, being able to approach high-impact conversations with a clear head and realistic attitude will help you to avoid unnecessary stress.

Do some background research before you go in.
If you have a good idea of the topics to be addressed, give yourself a sense of control by researching the issue as much as is reasonably possible, before attending the meeting. For instance, if you suspect that you have been invited to attend a meeting in order to discuss how costs could be reduced in your department, it would be a good idea to take with you any relevant facts and figures.

Try not to jump to conclusions.
Someone very wise once commented that many of us waste a lot of time worrying about things that never actually happen. Whilst your intuition may very well be correct, it is impossible to predict, with absolute certainty, what is going to happen. Life is full of surprises and if you go into a meeting with a fixed set of expectations, you will be more easily thrown off course, stressed and disorientated, than if you try to relax and keep an open mind. Think back to the most difficult situations you have dealt with in life so far. Chances are that you didn’t see many of them coming! Equally, think of any notable strokes of luck you have been given – you probably didn’t see those on the horizon either.

Plan for the worst, but hope for the best.
Being in possession of a “worst case scenario” plan, can help you remain confident in high-impact conversations. When you know exactly how you will act if and when the worst possible scenario comes to pass, you will feel in control. However, remember that you may well not be in possession of all the facts - and take care not to assume that you know every detail pertaining to the situation at hand.

If you can, try and hope for the best. Too often, our minds wander to the worst possible outcome. This is natural, but does nothing for our stress levels! Instead, try to imagine a positive, or at least neutral, outcome if you can.

Do some deep breathing exercises.
You may have noticed that when you panic, your breathing becomes irregular. This triggers an imbalance of carbon dioxide in the body, which, in turn, can exacerbate stress-related symptoms, such as an increase in heart rate or feelings of dizziness. Obviously, this will not be helpful in a situation that already has the potential to cause you feelings of stress! Take a few minutes before entering a high-stakes meeting, to perform a deep breathing exercise. Inhale, whilst counting to three, hold for a couple of seconds and exhale slowly. Repeat, until you feel calmer.

If in doubt, ask for more time.
If you are asked to make a difficult decision that will require you to either gather more information or assess the situation from multiple angles, ask for more time. Emphasise that you want to make the right decision and that allowing you a couple of extra days, hours or weeks, as appropriate, could yield better returns in the long run, at both an individual and organisational level.

Remember to present yourself as a confident person.
When you are perceived to be confident, you are more likely to be entrusted with important information, to be treated as an equal rather than as a subordinate and to be given more autonomy when it comes to making decisions. Refer back to the previous modules on how to create an impression of confidence. Maintain good posture and use eye contact appropriately.

Take notes.
Even if you have a good memory, the stress of the situation may make you less likely to remember key points mentioned. Explain at the beginning of the meeting that you realise how important the conversation is - and that you are going to take notes, so as not to forget anything vital. Most people will respect the fact that you are taking the matter seriously.

Remember that in a few weeks’ time, this conversation probably won’t matter.

Remember that, even when others know more than you, you have a right to be heard and treated with respect.

Do not feel ashamed, if you become slightly emotional in high-stakes situations.
As human beings, we all want to feel secure and happy. If you feel that your job or lifestyle is under threat, it is completely normal to become somewhat emotional. For example, if you are presented with a tough choice, in which neither outcome is particularly desirable, you are perfectly justified in looking sad or distressed for a few moments! Do not allow anyone to make you feel bad, for simply being human.

Imagine that you have just received an email from your manager, instructing you to attend a meeting in their office at 9am tomorrow morning. The details are vague, but “company restructuring” is mentioned. With reference to the advice given in this module, how would you prepare for this conversation?