FOR years, the common belief has been that the only genuine way to a more confident appearance was a more confident mindset. The technique known as “fake it till you make it” was just that — faking it.
But the latest research has shown that how we act can influence how we think — and in a very short time. This has led to the discovery of some brilliant confidence-building techniques for anyone about to deliver a presentation, attend a recruitment interview, a difficult meeting or even one of those networking functions so many people dread.
The research is all based on non-verbal power poses. These are the positions we assume in our attempt to look larger and more powerful. It’s a primitive instinct. In animals, you see it in the flattened neck of the cobra or the cat’s fur standing up.
In humans, you see it in the way some people stand and sit “tall” — and it has nothing to do with their height. Other, physically taller people will stand and sit hunched over — almost as it they’re trying to squeeze into a smaller space.
Look at any waiting room for recruitment interviews and you will see the two extremes. Some will be using all their space. Elbows are on armrests (if they have any) or even stretched across the backs of the seats either side. Others will be sitting as “small” as possible, arms inside armrests with most of their eye contact on the folder in their lap.
Professor Amy Cuddy of Harvard and Assistant Professor Dana Carney of University of California, Berkeley, conducted some intriguing research on the effect of non-verbal power poses.
They looked at the impact body language has on your feeling of confidence — not psychologically, but physiologically as determined by the levels of two key hormones: testosterone and cortisol. Confident people have high levels of testosterone (the dominance hormone) and low levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).
Prof Cuddy and Prof Carney devised an experiment where some people were asked to stand or sit in high-power (larger) poses and others in low-power (smaller) poses for just two minutes.
After this short time, those in the high-power poses showed a 20 per cent increase in testosterone and a 25 per cent decrease in cortisol. Those in the low-power poses experienced a 10 per cent decrease in testosterone and a 15 per cent increase in cortisol.
Such a dramatic change from just two minutes — proving you can “fake it till you make it”.
So, here are three ways you can make it work for you:
Own your space. In the bus, train or taxi on the way to the meeting or interview, in the lift and in the waiting room, sit and stand tall, open out your shoulders, put your head up and initiate eye contact with others. Even if you don’t feel confident, act it, and you’ll soon start to feel it.
Take your time. Confident people move more deliberately and slightly more slowly. As you move into the room, take steps that are just 2cm longer than your normal step. This will slow your walk down and make you look more confident. If you are about to give a presentation, use this technique as you walk to your speaking position, taking slow, deep breaths as you do so.
Be proactive. If appropriate, take the initiative in the interaction. Hold out your hand first for the handshake. As you grab the other person’s hand, rather than stopping, keep moving forward another half step. This will make you appear more friendly and assertive.
The more you can force yourself to take the lead, the more you are stimulating your dominance hormone and suppressing your stress hormone.
This works brilliantly in networking functions (where many people feel awkward) because all you have to do is act like the host. Approach people and introduce yourself, thank them for coming, offer to accompany them to the bar, introduce them to others (who you have just met).
You’ll feel more purposeful, the other guests — even the “real” host — will love you for it, and all the while, you’re driving your hormones in the right direction.
Before this research, if you had said you could make someone feel more confident in just two minutes, I’d have scoffed. Now, the proof is there.
Put yourself in the right position and your sense of power will build while your stress level goes down — instant confidence!