There’s the radical thing I’ve been trying out recently called “looking people in the eye.” It’s not my natural inclination to look up from my iPhone and directly at a human being, but I’ve long known it’s a worthy endeavor to prioritize. It’s also an entry point to maximizing body language for confidence. I’ve weathered self-esteem issues for quite some time, and I’d now like to start exuding stronger energy. Enter: nonverbal communication.
That’s where body language can help: Classic research by Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA, led to his communication model in which body language accounts for 55 percent of communication (vocal tone takes 38 percent and actual words spoken 7 percent). This means, in terms of conveying confidence, I need not worry so much about my voice getting lost in the crowd or introvert tendencies leading me to hide in a corner.
So, whether you’re about to give a work presentation, have jitters about an upcoming date, or are preparing to mingle with your billionaire former classmates in a real-life Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion situation, it’s great to know what kind of body language for confidence is best to project. Below, body-language expert Patti Wood shares how to literally put your best, most confident foot forward.
4 expert tips to use body language for confidence
1. Eliminate barriers between you and other people
“Be awake and aware of the situations where you find yourself protecting yourself, your body,” Wood says. “You might do that with a coffee cup. You might go into the office in the morning with that coffee cup [saying] ‘don’t talk to me.’ It’s protective, it’s defensive, it’s a barrier between you and other people.”
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up your caffeine habit (deep sigh of relief, there). Rather, when it comes to using social shields like the coffee cup, it’s key to pay attention to when, how, and around whom you’re doing it, because you might be unintentionally putting up a wall up between yourself and others. If you’re doing it because the person in front of you is actually dangerous, Wood absolutely supports you going into protective mode. If not, you might be doing it because you lack confidence in this specific scenario. “You can act more confident by taking the barriers down,” she says.
2. Notice when you use ‘comfort cues’
“Comfort cues might be rubbing your ear, or holding onto your jewelry, or pushing your hair back or adjusting your belt,” Wood says. “People do those little cues all the time. They’re not inherently bad, but they show that you’re comforting yourself by touching yourself.”
Comfort cues can include any kind of self-soothing gestures, like compulsively French-braiding your hair in a meeting (me) and hugging yourself with those infamous folded arms (also me). And, like your coffee cup, comfort cues aren’t evil by any means. They’re just something to take note of and eliminate when you’re trying to be in control and call upon body language for confidence.
3. Look up, and look directly
Ever feel weird accepting a compliment? Wood suggests cutting that behavior. “You need to open up your body and accept that compliment,” Wood says. “Look at the person in the eye and say ‘thank you.’” And, do it with energy, she stresses.
Furthermore, basic eye contact is a great way to assert yourself and genuinely connect with someone. But it’s also really important to keep your head up and be an active observer of the world. Wood says looking straight ahead while walking allows you to keep your eyes open for people who are interacting with the world in a positive way. And, from there, you can connect.
“What what you’re doing is you’re creating a facial feedback loop that feeds you and makes you feel better,” says Wood. “And it also helps you learn to pick out good, healthy people who make you feel safer, which ends up making you more confident.” This works in an infinite loop of confidence, bolstering your self-esteem and feeding you more healthy relationships continuously.
4. Notice your limbs and put them stand apart
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but manspreading is actually a tenet of body language for confidence: Wood suggests strengthening your base by widening the distance of your length. “Just take a seat and just put [your feet] an inch further apart,” Wood says.
Making that conscious effort to separate your feet—sitting, standing, or otherwise—may lead you to feel more stable. And you can apply that rule to your arms, as well: Bring them further apart on the table upon which you’re setting them, or welcome some conversational gesticulation. The through line here regarding body language for confidence is, unsurprisingly, a nonverbal one: take up space.
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