This article is from the March 2016 edition of the Toastmaster magazine.
Your body might be sabotaging your career. Not on purpose; your heart’s in the right place. In fact, you’ve mastered the basics. As a Toastmaster, you’re way past avoiding eye contact, wussy handshakes and the proverbial fig leaf arms. Beware of three more subtle nonverbal cues that can seriously damage your credibility as a leader.
Making Yourself Small
When it comes to confidence, I’m in agreement with social psychologist Amy Cuddy: “Don’t fake it until you make it. Fake it until you BECOME it.” Her well-known TED talk provides important evidence that our body language shapes our own confidence, not just our credibility. Her research shows that closed arms, slouched postures, neck-rubbing and other self-protecting poses actually impact our hormones, making us feel less confident. Those feelings then further shape our non-verbal behavior, and the cycle continues.
If you want to become more confident, open up your arms and stance and take up more space in the room. Being more aware and deliberate about your body language will not only help you look strong; it will actually help you feel more confident.
When you’re in a meeting, check your posture every 15 minutes. Notice what your body does when you’re not paying attention to it. Do you have a tendency to make yourself larger, or smaller? Try doing yoga, and take note of how poses like the Warrior and the back bend make you feel.
Choosing the Wrong Seat
I’m not talking about the power dynamics of working your way to the head of the table. It’s about choosing to sit on the sidelines rather than pulling a chair to the table. If you don’t belong at the table, you shouldn’t be in the room. If you’re running a meeting and there aren’t enough chairs at the table for everyone, get a bigger room or find a different approach. You won’t build confidence or create engagement by casting people to the sidelines.
Letting Your Stress Show
This takes many forms, from coming in late and disheveled, to fidgety impatient behavior or chronic multitasking in meetings. “You look stressed” is not a compliment or a badge of honor for how hard you’re working, or how much you’re taking on. Calm and collected breeds confidence.
As celebrated dancer and choreographer Martha Graham says, “the body never lies.” Paying close attention to what your body is telling you and others will go a long way in bolstering your credibility.