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Many of us are sometimes unaware of our body language, especially at times when we are under stress. Body language has a large part to play in situations where we want to feel confident and to come over as such to others. So it can be helpful to spend a little time being curious about our own tendencies and what messages we may be giving out. Sometimes the messages can be quite the reverse of what we want to convey in a particular situation.
It is widely accepted that 93% of communication is non-verbal. So our body language is a really important part of how we come over to others. The actual words we use are important, of course, but unless the other non-verbal messages we are giving are consistent with the words, the words simply won’t register as we intend.
The main non-verbal indicators for confidence are:
- Maintaining good eye contact
- Using open gestures
- An appropriate pace, tone, and inflection in our speaking voice – this may depend on your audience and the subject matter. Some situations best suit a more lively pace, tone, and inflection and others a more measured style.
- Remaining calm and in control
- A confident posture
Here is a good exercise for practicing a confident posture:
Start by sitting down with both feet flat on the floor. Then, making sure your head is upright, just get a sense of an imaginary thread from the top of your head gently pulling you upwards so you become taller and taller as your spine straightens until you are at your tallest, your head straight and looking forwards, the chin parallel to the floor.
Then move your attention to your shoulders, making any adjustments necessary to loosen them and bring them down so they are straight with your body – there is often a tendency for us to tighten our shoulders when tense, which can push them forwards and upwards, so this is countering that tendency. As you do this, you may want to tense the shoulder and neck muscles and hold for a count of 10 before slowly releasing them, and perhaps rolling your head as you do so, before bringing the head back to an upright position. Muscles are always more relaxed if you first tense and then release them.
Next, turn attention to your arms and make sure they are open, i.e., by your sides (not crossed or across your body in any way), with your hands gently resting on your lap.
Then imagine that your mirror image is sitting directly in front of you; look that image straight in the eye and smile. This is a confident smile of assurance, warmth, and ease. Notice how good it feels. At the same time you can use a breathing exercise (breathe in to the count of 7, hold briefly and breathe out to the count of 11, breathing through the nose – or you can use counts of 3 and 5, respectively, if you prefer). This further stimulates the physical relaxation response, which reduces stress at the same time.
You can then do the same thing standing up with your feet a little apart with an even distribution of weight on both feet. Your hands can then be held more openly, palms inclined towards your mirror image and perhaps even making a few open hand movements, palms upturned. You can go on to practice walking calmly whilst maintaining the same posture, perhaps with slight movement to the arms as you do so.
Rather than imagining a mirror image of yourself, you may want to do this in front of a mirror so you can really see what is happening.
Practicing this exercise will really embed a confident body posture and reduce stress levels at the same time.
Sarah Jeffrey-Gray is a contributing author to The Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs.