The ability to walk into a room and exude a self-confidence that communicates your commitment and trustworthiness is essential in business interactions. Each gesture can say a lot about who you are, how you’re feeling, and how much you care about the work you're doing.
"You are in control of [the message] you are sending out," Barbara Pachter writes in her book The Essentials of Business Etiquette. "If you project a confident, credible, composed image, people will respond to you as if you are all those things."
Are your nonverbal cues sending the right message? Do you appear approachable by maintaining eye contact and using gestures that make others feel at ease? Are you leaning forward to listen and engage?
Those physical details can open up opportunities in business and can create unnecessary barriers if you’re not paying attention to them. Consider the following seven tips that can lead to big changes that help bring new business opportunities into your life.
How to Look Confident
Wondering how to look confident? With these tips, you can ensure that you have a confident posture and body language that exudes confidence.
1. Hold an assertive posture.
You can look confident with an assertive posture that makes you appear more balanced and grounded.
When standing, keep your feet planted firmly on the ground, shoulder width apart, and distribute your weight equally on both legs. Angle your feet outward and in the direction of the person you are speaking with to signal you're hearing that person’s ideas and opinions.
"This is an assertive posture," Pachter explains. "It is a posture that projects confidence, not insecurity. You are open to the person to whom you are talking. And you can stand tall, regardless of your height."
Imagine a string pulling your head up toward the sky. A straight line should exist from your earlobes through your shoulders, hip, and the middle of your ankles.
Avoid a "submissive position" with your legs crossed, hands folded in front of you, or weight pressed down on one hip.
If you sit in a chair for work, practice good posture while sitting. Keep your back straight with your rear toward the back of the chair, and your feet planted firmly on the floor. In this position, you should be able to stand straight up without having to lean forward first. This kind of sitting position puts the least amount of strain on supporting muscles, helping prevent back and neck pain and helping build a strong core. These benefits can help improve your standing posture, leading to less pain and better breathing as well.
2. Embrace power poses.
Whether you have a big presentation or are meeting some important people, you need to believe that you’re confident and deserve the opportunity. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy says learning how to be confident and fight self-doubt can start with just two minutes of various power poses.
According to Cuddy, open body positions help you take up space and send signals to the brain that you’re feeling confident. As a result, the brain produces more testosterone and lowers your cortisol levels, making you feel calmer and more confident.
Cuddy further explores how power posing can shift our attitudes in her book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. She notes that when your body mimics gestures a powerful person would do, your brain starts to believe you’re powerful. Those body-mind nudges, she says, allow you to skip over any negative talk and thought patterns that can hinder productivity.
When you’re closing a deal:
Place both of your hands on the table and lean forward to show you’re engaged. This is a position of dominance, according to Cuddy, and can help you command a room.
When giving a presentation:
Strike a quick pose right before you’re in front of your colleagues and all of those investors. Reaching your hands in the air and standing with your feet wide apart for two minutes can help you feel powerful.
3. Watch your hands.
We all know the power of a good handshake, but your hands can say a lot more than just “hello.” They can help enhance your verbal message, invite dialogue, and convey respect.
During a presentation, gesture with an open hand, palm facing up, toward the content you're presenting. This can have a positive effect on others, communicating acceptance, openness, cooperation, and trustworthiness. Pointing can seem aggressive.
4. Pay attention to your face.
What are your facial expressions communicating during business meetings and interactions? If you tend to furrow your brows or squint your eyes when someone speaks, your nonverbal cues might convey a message you’re not intending.
Try to relax your muscles and smile more often when meeting new people, which can help you feel happier and more connected.
5. Maintain eye contact.
When you maintain appropriate eye contact, you communicate that you’re honest, approachable, and confident. You’re showing people they have your full attention.
Ensure your eye contact is appropriate and not too aggressive, which might make others uncomfortable. In The Power of Eye Contact: Your Secret for Success in Business, Love, and Life, author Michael Ellsberg says that “in order for eye contact to feel good, one person cannot impose his visual will on another; it is a shared experience.”
People who don't maintain eye contact or are the first to break eye contact may signal that they’re hiding something or feeling uncomfortable, or consider themselves submissive to the person they’re speaking to.
6. Mirror other people's body language.
One effective way to bond with others quickly is to mirror their gestures, postures, vocal qualities, and mannerisms. These small movements indicate that you’re interested in their company and want to build an understanding and connection with them.
For instance, if someone is sitting in a certain way, consider sitting in a similar position. If that person likes to speak with their hands, you might want to incorporate similar movements into the conversation. If that person tends to speak slower, try matching their pace and volume.
It’s not enough to mimic or copy someone else’s body language – you also need to know when it’s not appropriate to. The success of mirroring comes down to making it feel and appear natural, not to imitate or irk those around you.
7. Avoid fidgeting.
When you're nervous, you might jingle coins in your pocket, tap your foot repeatedly, or play with your hair. Fidgeting is unproductive for projecting self-confidence. These movements can come off as signs of nervousness, frustration, or boredom, which take away from the message you’re trying to communicate and prevent people from getting to know you.
Pay attention to what triggers those habits so you can replace them with more productive ones. For instance, if you play with your hair, consider putting it into a bun or combing it away from your face and out of reach of your fingers. If you jingle coins, make sure you don’t have any in your pockets or wear clothes with no pockets. If you fidget with pens, make sure you don’t have one in your hand while speaking. Instead, try working on hand gestures that can have positive effects on others.
If you fidget to fight stress, take a few deep breaths instead to calm your nerves. You can also consider doing physical activities to help eliminate excess energy. For instance, try going on a run or doing push-ups before a presentation.
Don't let your body language undermine your effectiveness in business. Since most of the information we receive comes from nonverbal cues, remember to pay particular attention to the types of messages your body language is conveying. You can certainly gain confidence over time, but when you're in a pinch, use the above tips to help you feel ready for whatever challenge you’re facing.
A version of this article was originally published on August 20, 2013.
Photo: Getty Images