Whether you’re leading a business meeting, hanging out at a party, or looking for love, confidence is the key to achieving social success. We all know this and we all want it; however, for many women, confidence can feel impossible to come by. Luckily, researchers have discovered that by simply altering your body language you can transform how others perceive you and how you feel about yourself.
As a human behavior investigator, I have spent the last 10 years studying the science of people in my human behavior research lab. In my new book, Captivate, I present a completely different approach to interacting with people. I think our relationships can be hacked for good. And one of the most important skills in making that shift is feeling (and appearing) confident.
Here are six strategies for using body language to look and feel more confident:
1. Stand in a launch stance.
How much space you take up actually has a significant impact on how confident you feel and are perceived to be. Researchers at Emory University studied both seeing and congenitally blind athletes from 30 countries and discovered that when people feel proud they instinctively expand their body language by spreading their arms and legs in a gesture of victory.
You can harness the power of pride posing by using an adaptation of it called the launch stance. In the launch stance, you stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, your back long and straight, and your arms either at your side, on your hips, or in front of your torso to make hand gestures. This stance exudes confidence because it resembles a pride pose while being socially appropriate.
2. Stop using your phone as a safety net.
We’ve all done it before. You show up at an event with a bunch of people you don’t know and you’re afraid to strike up a conversation with a stranger so you whip out your phone and pretend to be busy. While playing with your phone may help you cope with your social anxiety, it makes you look insecure and unapproachable.
When most people check their phones, they bend over, look down, and hold their arms in front of their chest like this:
This pose makes you look and feel weak because it resembles the universal body language of failure. The same researchers who discovered the launch stance also found that when people experience defeat, their instinctive reaction is to lean over and make themselves appear smaller.
Instead of turning to your phone, seek out other individuals who are alone and looking for someone to speak with.
3. Smile purposefully.
Contrary to popular belief, smiling is seen as a sign of submission—not sociability. Submissive people tend to smile more at alphas to show they are agreeable and nonthreatening to their power. Alphas in turn (think Clint Eastwood) smile much less because their power is enough to put people in line. Women in particular may want to watch over-smiling. Dr. Nancy Henley found that women smile in 87 percent of social encounters while men smile only 67 percent of the time.
As a general rule, limit your smiling to greetings and moments when you are genuinely happy.
4. Use eye contact to establish trust.
British social psychologist Dr. Michael Argyle found that when Westerners and Europeans are in conversation, they tend to hold eye contact for an average of 61 percent of the time. He found that 41 percent occurs while talking and 75 percent while listening. Next time you’re talking to someone, try to objectively evaluate where you tend to fall on the spectrum. Some things to keep in mind:
- Notice their eye color.
- Don’t look over their head to scope out the scene.
- Hold eye contact 60 to 70 percent of the time.
Following this guideline for eye contact is a simple way to establish trust with people and show that you are open to connection. If eye contact makes you feel uncomfortable, practice holding eye contact 60 to 70 percent of the time with friends and family before using the strategy when meeting new people.
5. Listen to people with your entire body.
According to body language expert Joe Navarro, people who are confident and comfortable fully engage in conversations by aiming their torso and toes toward the person they are speaking with. This is called fronting, and when you do it, you look focused, put together, and charismatic. It’s also a nonverbal sign of respect and a great way to show people you are actively listening.
6. Beware the question inflection.
To project authority, be sure that your tone signals confidence. When our voices go higher at the end of a statement, it can make us sound unsure, i.e., "My name is Vanessa?" Instead, make it authoritative by going down at the end of the sentence. "My name is Vanessa."
Research has found that when people raise their voice at the end of their statements they are perceived as insecure and weak while people with smooth voices are seen as smart, sociable, and successful. A simple trick to keep your voice low and steady is to take a deep breath and begin speaking as you exhale. This prevents the sharp intake of breath that causes your voice to get higher.