What does it mean to look confident? While the answer will vary from person to person, most psychologists agree that our gestures, stances, and even clothing choices can be powerful tools for expressing self-confidence. These behaviors are all forms of body language: a natural tool to communicate with others and even express belief in ourselves. In this post, we’ll consider how body language can make you look and feel good, followed by nine confidence-building strategies to unlock the quiet power of body language.
What Is Body Language?
Body language is a way to express thoughts and feelings through posture, gestures, facial expression, and other movements. Psychologists also refer to body language as nonverbal communication, or a way to convey information — as well as confidence — without the use of words.
Types Of Body Language
Generally, body language refers to nonverbal behaviors that express feelings and intentions. Some examples of these behaviors are:
- Bodily stance
- Facial expressions
- Hand gestures
- Head position
- Tone of voice
- Interpersonal distance
Attending to these nonverbal cues can improve your understanding of yourself and others. Next up, we’ll explore how different kinds of body language can affect the way you present and connect to other people.
Confident Vs. Unconfident Body Language
Consciously and unconsciously, we can express confidence or self-doubt in several ways. The word “confidence” itself may hold slightly different meanings for everyone; but in general, self-confidence is your trust in your abilities, capacity, and judgment. When you’re more self-confident, you’re more likely to believe in your ability to meet the demands of a task, according to the American Psychological Association.
- Maintaining eye contact while engaging in a social interaction
- Offering a firm handshake, but not too assertive or aggressive
- Leaving your arms uncrossed, which lets others know you’re open to conversation and feedback
- Sitting up straight and keeping your chin up
As you might expect, unconfident body language counters these more expressive, open behaviors. If you’re feeling less sure of yourself, you may display some of the following nonverbal indicators of lower confidence:
- Crossing your arms
- Avoiding eye contact
- Overthinking your handshake
- Fidgeting your hands or tapping your feet
Body Language And Neurodiversity
While you can make some quick adjustments to exude more confidence, it takes time to consistently practice strong, open body language. You may find that you’re naturally prone to slouching, or that eye contact or handshakes feel especially awkward. It’s important to note that everyone has their own unique ways of communicating, both physically and verbally. Some neurodivergent people, for example, may communicate in ways that challenge common perceptions of confident body language.
The takeaway? There is no “correct” way to communicate, and some people and cultures simply communicate in a different, but equally valid, social language.
Whether you’re at work, with a new friend, or in another public space, remember that people use various gestures to express themselves. To accommodate a wide range of communication styles and body language, a quiet space with low sensory input is an inclusive setting for most conversations.
How Can I Develop More Confident Body Language?
The following nine strategies can help you express and feel a stronger sense of confidence. While you may not feel confident in a given moment, the way you manage your body can transform the way you feel about yourself.
1. Sit And Stand Up Straight
Whether you’re sitting or standing, keeping your body upright tends to make you look and feel more confident. Your stance extends from your feet to your head: so, in addition to your spine, try to keep your chin up and feet planted in an open, wide stance. When you’re slouching, others may interpret your stance as a sign of insecurity. In contrast, an upright posture occupies more space, which conveys an aura of self-assurance and openness.
2. Wear Clothes That Make You Feel Good
Technically, clothing isn’t a type of body language, but when you wear clothes that make you feel comfortable and even fashionable, you tend to carry yourself with more confidence. In the spirit of dressing for success, some people feel a boost of confidence when they wear a new suit, a favorite shirt, or clean shoes. The garment doesn’t need to be expensive or fancy: anything that makes you feel comfortable, confident, or approachable counts.
Your wardrobe can create an opportunity for self-care and self-expression, both of which can enhance your confidence.
3. Talk With Your Hands
Used sparingly, hand gestures can show emotional investment in another person or the subject of discussion.
In most conversations, research suggests that hand gestures have benefits for both listeners and speakers. When you use your hands while talking, the activity may increase neural activation and make it easier to find your words. Listeners may also interpret your verbal message more accurately when you use more gestures.
If you’re trying to refine the art of using your hands, some common tips include:
- Keeping your palms up, which shows you’re open to receiving feedback.
- Staying in your “box:” an imaginary space from shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. Moving your hands outside of this space may be distracting to some listeners.
- Pointing up to add emphasis.
In general, it’s best to do what feels most natural, and to allow your words and the nature of the conversation to guide your actions.
4. Take A Breath
During a high-stakes presentation or an uncomfortable conversation, relaxing is easier said than done. Calmness, however, is one of the keys to confident body language. If you’re feeling especially nervous and tense, those feelings can manifest in your body language. Your shoulders and back might stiffen, and you may feel inclined to cross your arms or tap your foot incessantly.
To combat these stress-induced movements, deep breathing exercises can help you ground yourself in the present moment. Taking in some deep breaths, visualizing your success, and even smiling before a big presentation can help you feel and appear calmer.
5. Find A Reason To Smile
In scientific circles, the power of smiling is widely accepted. Researchers have found that smiling increases mood-enhancing hormones while decreasing stress-enhancing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Emotionally and physically, smiles benefit the smiler, but this expression can also make other people feel calmer, happier, and more invigorated. After all, a genuine smile is infectious: one study even found that when someone else is smiling, we naturally react with a smile of our own.
Overall, smiles promote a happier, healthier atmosphere, which can even enhance productivity and community in the workplace. When you’re more productive and successful at work (or in any performance-based role), you’re more likely to feel confident — and continue smiling.
6. Make Eye Contact
As noted previously, eye contact isn’t always easy, but holding your gaze with someone else can improve trust and convey confidence and strength. If you’re uncomfortable making eye contact, try looking in between someone’s eyes, at their nose, or even their ears. Whereas eye contact promotes trust and connection, looking down or around can make you appear nervous and uncertain.
7. Mind Your Face
As you communicate a message, be mindful of your face, as well as the facial expressions of others. A 2019 study found that high confidence was associated with direct eye contact, a “serious facial expression,” and an upright posture. Holding your gaze and maintaining a steady expression can help you actively listen to the person in front of you, interpret and reflect their message, and make you appear more self-assured.
8. Find Your Voice
Research indicates that pitch is one of the vocal hallmarks of a confident speaker, and that lower pitches and a steady, consistent tone are associated with higher competence and professional success. Of course, this doesn’t mean that people with higher-pitched voices are unconfident or unsuccessful. Rather, this research suggests that when stressed or nervous, your voice may become higher than your baseline tone. In these moments, remind yourself to speak as if talking to a close friend or loved one, which can help you communicate in a more conversational, relaxed style.
9. Connect With A Therapist For More Support
The art and science of body language can be tricky to navigate on your own. If you are seeking ways to cultivate and exude more self-confidence, a licensed therapist may be a helpful resource for guiding you through the process. A therapist can help you assess your body language and increase your confidence at work, school, in relationships, and other personal contexts.
Although some people prefer in-person counseling, a growing number of people use online therapy to boost their self-esteem and maintain their mental health. Several studies indicate that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy. In a 2020 review of the field by the American Psychological Association, it was found that people receiving online therapy stayed committed to the therapeutic process longer than people doing face-to-face therapy. This longer commitment can be essential for when you are working on long-term goals, such as developing greater self-confidence.
Using a digital platform like BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed therapist in as little as 48 hours after completing a brief online questionnaire. All BetterHelp therapists have at least three years of professional experience, and many work with clients to help them feel more confident and self-assured in a range of social situations.
Confident Body Language
- Previous Article
- Next Article