When it comes to facing new challenges, whether in the workplace or elsewhere in our lives, it is often said that confidence is key. That isn't to suggest that being domineering and arrogant are prerequisite to achieving success. To the contrary, there may actually be social penalties for showing too much confidence if your actual performance doesn't keep up with how you've portrayed yourself. Is there a way to convey that you believe in yourself without potentially annoying everyone around you?
A new study suggests the secret lies in how you choose to demonstrate that confidence. Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study explored how the specific channels of communication people use to express their confidence influence their likability and respectability according to observing strangers.
Researchers had hundreds of participants each meet with a handful of potential work collaborators. Some of these collaborators were overtly confident about their abilities while the others took a more cautious approach. After their meeting, most participants of course indicated that they preferred to work with the more confident people. However, when researchers gave the participants evidence of how well the collaborators actually performed, most participants changed their tune. When it turned out that a confident person was, in fact, overconfident—that is, their walk didn't match up to their talk—participants viewed these overconfident people even more negatively than their cautious peers.
The catch? Overconfident people were judged negatively only if they'd verbally expressed their confidence. If they'd expressed that confidence nonverbally, they were still viewed more positively than both their braggy counterparts and the cautious people.
"The channel of communication matters," Nathan Meikle, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business and one of the lead study authors, tells mindbodygreen. "If the overconfident individual expressed their confidence nonverbally—for example, by making eye contact, gesturing, adopting an expansive posture, or speaking in a strong voice—they actually remained the more desirable and trusted choice."
"The research suggests that the key to expressing confidence without pissing everyone off is to express confidence while retaining some form of plausible deniability, in case your confidence turns out to be misplaced," he continues. "Nonverbal displays of confidence are great for that."
What is the take-away here? Yes, confidence is critical as ever when it comes to leadership—but how you exert that confidence is what's going to make or break how much people actually like and respect you. Gloating, bragging, or directly asserting your self-worth isn't going to win you any allies and will likely provoke an adverse reaction. Showing your confidence through body language and how you carry yourself—looking people in the eye, using direct gestures, standing straight and tall, and speaking in a powerful tone—is the more effective tool for winning trust.
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