This article was updated on August 23, 2021.
Communication is the glue of professional relationships. And you may already be spending a lot of energy refining your speaking skills to communicate confidently.
But what about your non-verbal communication habits? Body language can play a huge role in conveying confidence in the workplace. However, its effects are more intuitive than intentional and more subconscious than obvious, which can make it tricky to improve.
“Body language in the form of movement, posture, hand gestures, tone of voice, facial expressions, and micro-expressions can be a useful instrument for appearing confident. Non-verbal behaviors are a visual gauge of intangible characteristics and an indication of the value we place on ourselves and how we expect others to interact with and value us,” says communication professional, operations manager, and corporate trainer Kristi A. Gleason.
While body language affects how others see us, it also affects how we feel about ourselves. Remember Amy Cuddy’s infamous TED talk on the effects of power posing? “Taking a confident, can-do stance, positively affects an image in the eyes of others while initiating a positive psychological internal change,” says Gleason. “Tweaking body language significantly changes social interactions, impacting how our lives unfold. Mastering physical presence builds an internal confidence muscle.”
So how do the most confident people physically carry themselves? Their body language is all about making others feel valued and at ease, and they also use body language to be more influential, according to Gleason. “Most successful people are adept at reading a situation, understand how to appear confident, and make minor tweaks to wield influence and win people over. Their body language is congruent with their verbal message,” she says.
If you’re ready to start paying attention to all aspects of confident communication, start by avoiding the five body language mistakes below.
Insecure head movements
Active listening cues are great. But there is a fine line between showing an interlocutor you are engaged in the conversation and appearing insecure. You won’t catch highly confident people tipping or tilting their head to the side or excessively nodding their head in conversation, says Gleason: “Excessive head-nodding gives the appearance of a bobblehead and says, ‘not management material.’”
Being overly expressive
When it comes to facial expressions, less is more. Yes, you want to smile and show warmth or convey excitement. But don’t force your enthusiasm or display emotions that don’t match the tone of the context. “Being overly expressive can detract from credibility, discouraging further interest while running the risk of alienation. Expressing the entire spectrum of emotions undermines the envisioned interaction and the message is lost in the confusion,” says Gleason.
Do you tap your feet or play with your pen during long meetings? Watch out for these distracting body language habits that can undermine your presence. “When it comes to showing confidence, the less movement usually the better. Fidgeting betrays a lack of presence and confidence and is a sign of nervousness. It is a distraction and takes away from the intended message,” says Gleason.
“The ability to harness breath is one of the key elements of executive presence. It is about giving your voice the richness it is capable of so that the power of your voice matches the power of your words,” says Gleason.“Shallow breathing portrays stress and can often result in unwelcome nervous habits. Chronic breath-holding and effortful breathing are often unconscious saboteurs for carrying oneself with confidence.” Easier said than done when you’re nervous, right? Before an important interaction, take deep, belly breaths and stay present. It can have a drastic impact on your communication.
Great posture is a hallmark of confident body language. Find a power pose that makes you feel unstoppable and ready to deal with whatever the workday throws at you and you’ll automatically ramp up your credibility. “Standing with feet spread further apart ‘claiming territory’ signals a subconscious cue that you are feeling confident. People tend to be more receptive to individuals with their bodies in expansive positions,” says Gleason.