I was hunting and gathering online last night, (I find late-night browsing therapeutic) and in my click-bating, I stumbled on the above picture.
There is an experiment that Stanford professor Deborah Gruenfeld talks about in her lecture, Acting with Power. She invites audience members to sit in this retracted, power-less body position and say, “I am totally in charge. I’m invincible. I’m on top of the world.” She does the same with an expansive body position. Everyone laughs because it’s ludicrous and impossible. The audience feels the opposite of what they’re being asked to say.
If the woman in this picture were to speak, what would she say? Would she say, “I am totally in charge?” I don’t think so.
Imagine, if you will, a puppy dog in this same position: head down and to the side, tail tucked, knees knocked, toes in. You would feel sorry for this dog. Now imagine a man in a nice suit assuming this same position. That just feels wrong.
I write this, not to put the blame on fashion or size 4 models, but to bring an awareness to the responsibility we have to ourselves. As we are surrounded by these images, we naturally mirror and mimic the shapes we see.
The physical postures we are assuming are sending messages on a moment-by-moment basis: determining our status at work, in our relationships and how we feel about ourselves.
Not surprisingly, the number one question I receive from my clients is, “How can I have more confidence?”
This chasm of confidence has opened up a deeper exploration for me. What is confidence? Is it a feeling, a residue from of our our past experiences, from how we were raised? Is it part of our DNA and either we have it or we don’t? Is it a state of mind? Is it a physical posture that can be assumed even if the feeling isn’t present?
The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman says that confidence isn’t an attitude but is determined by actions you take. I tend to agree with this definition. We all want do certain things but are fearful of failure. These nerves are normal. (See my post on Fear.) A confident person acts, regardless of experiencing this fear.
I also appreciate the Urban dictionary’s definition: Confidence is sexy.
There are ways that we undercut our ability to feel and exude confidence everyday. Let’s take this woman’s picture as an extreme example of what we do in our interactions and daily lives. If the woman in this picture was feeling under-confident, her body position isn’t helping. Here’s why:
1. She is tense: Her shoulders are pulled up and hugged closed to her body. Her knees and feet are turned unnaturally inward.
2. She is disengaged from the situation: Her feet are pointed in two different directions, and her torso is facing away from the camera. By her body posture, we can assume that her head is also tilted and eyes looking sheepishly at the ground. (We wouldn’t know because her head is cut off.)
3. She is guarded: With arms and hands close to the body, knees turned in and toes turned in, she is effectively cut off from the viewer.
Here are 3 shifts YOU can make in your body posture everyday that will change how confident you feel and how much confidence you exude:
1. Take up more space.
We show ownership and dominance by taking up space with our bodies in any given situation. Taking the Wonder Woman stance is one option, but you can try a subtler tactic. Relax your shoulders and widen the expanse across your chest. Drop your hands, loosely at your sides. Allow your arms to hang slightly away from your body as opposed to being pulled up or held close. Notice that a relaxed body makes all of the above possible.
2. Use engaging body language.
Often when we feel under confident, we’ll use body language to try to escape from our current situation. Even if it feels uncomfortable, engage with the person in front of you. Put your head on straight and point your toes directly at the person you’re talking to. Make eye contact and don’t look away or look down; allow yourself to stay with them and breathe. Carry your hands like they’re useful.
3. Vulnerability is the key to exuding confidence.
I know this is absolutely counter intuitive. Think about the opposite. When you feel insecure you want to hide. Undo this body language, present yourself and you’ll start to feel confident. Allow your arms to rest at your sides, revealing you torso. Stand with weight distributed evenly on both of your feet. Lift your chest and drop your chin slightly. Allow yourself to be seen.
As I write this I’m sitting at a cafe, next to my dog, who’s just been put in her place by a much smaller dog. The smaller dog asserted her alpha status immediately by jumping into my lap (taking up space), making eye contact (engaging) with the other dog and barking. She doesn’t quite have the vulnerability piece but for a small animal, she sure exudes confidence. Animals know how to use their body language. Why don’t we?
If you like what you’re reading check out my other posts for more tips on body communication and body language. As always, you can contact me directly with questions or for individual coaching.
Next up, 3 ways your voice gives you away.