We’ve all heard old sayings like “a picture’s worth a thousand words,” or “actions speak louder than words.” It turns out there’s actually some science to that. Words make up just seven percent of what we say. The rest is in our non-verbal communication – from the tone of our voices to hand gestures to shoulder stance. In just a tenth of a second after meeting somebody, we make up our minds about a person based on body language and facial expressions. What are you saying about yourself without, well, actually saying it?
Take your walk as an example. A confident man will take larger strides, rather than sneaking by or scurrying along. Taking wider steps also makes you seem more purposeful – a man with somewhere to be. A confident man smiles, not because he is careless, but because he is carefree. Not only does smiling positively change our attitudes and increase self-esteem, it’s a huge part of connecting with people.
When people go to an important job interview or go out on a hopeful first date, most people are so focused on what they are saying that they often completely overlook how they are saying it. That’s a huge mistake. If 93 percent of what we say comes from body language, then that leaves very little that’s actually related to the content of what you’re saying. The majority of people’s judgments are based on appearance and non-verbal cues.
When your mom always nagged you to “stand up straight,” she was actually doing you a solid. In her TED Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains the importance of stance. “Power posing” – standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t necessarily feel confident – affects our hormones. It increases testosterone, associated with confidence in both sexes, and decreases cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. That’s right, by projecting confidence, you can in effect develop – from a chemical perspective – actual confidence. It snowballs like that.
Eye contact is also important in establishing a positive first impression, something you’re likely to have heard over the years. It’s right up there with a firm handshake on the list of obvious body language do’s. People who seek eye contact when speaking are seen as more confident and trustworthy by their audience. That’s why eye contact has always been seen as such an important facet of body language when it comes to job interviews and public speaking.
Another way to ensure that your confidence, whether forced or not, comes through is in gestures. When speaking, using hand gestures can show passion and excitement. It says, “I know what I’m talking about, and I’m excited to be sharing my thoughts with you.” On the other hand, overdoing hand gestures can be read as anxiety. Fidgeting conveys nervousness or uneasiness. Avoid bouncing your leg at all costs. Controlled movements and stillness – of both the body and voice – give a clearer impression of confidence.
If you’re not sure what to do with your hands, please don’t put them in your pockets. Not only does it encourage slouching, keeping your hands in your pockets shows that you’re tense or unsure of yourself. Hiding your hands also indicates that you might be hiding something else. It’s a natural instinct for us to hide our hands when we feel nervous, but it’s better to keep it all above the table, so to speak. Showing your hands will convey confidence – but only if you keep them steady.
The most important thing about body language is to be aware of it. The more self-aware you are, the more control you have over the way people perceive you. If you know that you slouch, start consciously re-posturing. Shoulders back! Start making small changes in your everyday life. Smile at somebody walking down the street. It’s one of the easiest ways to convey confidence, with just a simple twitch of your facial muscles. Before you know it, there will be an unspoken confidence about you. You’ll be able to nail that interview with no problem. Or, hey, maybe that date will invite you inside for a nightcap.