"Fake it till you make it," but how, exactly?
November 6, 2013 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I am mentoring two new employees in my organization, both of whom could benefit from more confidence and "presence." They have both asked me for specific tips on how to appear more confident, even if they don't feel it. The problem is that beyond stating the obvious, such as standing up straight, looking people in the eye, etc., I am having trouble getting down to details in behaviour and appearance. What do you do to appear more confident? And what signals do you look for when assessing the confidence level of another person? How does someone "own the room"? (One of my mentees is a twenty-something man, just out of school, and a bit geeky. The other is a female in her early forties, recently returned to the work force after maternity leave followed by a divorce, and clearly lacking in body confidence, despite being "normal" weight and quite pretty.)
posted by rpfields to Human Relations (29 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Of course I did not catch the typo in the header...
posted by rpfields at 11:09 AM on November 6, 2013

While physical presence is part of it, I think it's more about speaking confidently. You'll hear a lot of good speaking tips to sound confident, like: end each sentence with a period, not with a question mark or by running on to the next sentence; try to cut down on "um"s and "uh"s; speak up and don't trail off at the end of a sentence; don't preface your thoughts with "I may be wrong about this, but..."; no nervous laughter. At bottom, all of these tips come from the same place of really believing that you have something to add and that what you have to say has value and other people will benefit from hearing it. So tell these employees, and try to get them to see for themselves, why they are there. They were hired because the organization needs their skills and believes they can contribute. Work with them to figure out where they're needed and valuable, and why they should be confident in their contributions. Since they're new, it may also help to emphasize that nobody is expecting perfection from them and the expectation is that they will take time to learn the ropes.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:13 AM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I found this TED talk by Amy Cuddy very interesting in regards to body language. She gives some specific advice within the 20 minute or so video.
posted by elmay at 11:14 AM on November 6, 2013 [30 favorites]

Public speaking courses are both devastating and awesome.
posted by jenkinsEar at 11:14 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Questions like this always put me in mind of the classic Troy McClure motivational film, "Get Confident, Stupid!"

I kid. But the thing is, people at a new job *don't* feel confident, and no amount of staring people awkwardly in the eye is going to help that. If you can enable them to be themselves and not be afraid to make mistakes, they will grow into it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:15 AM on November 6, 2013 [10 favorites]

clearly lacking in body confidence,

And you really REALLY need to be not judging your employees on "body confidence," whatever that is. I'm sure you mean well but that is borderline harassment. Let them deal with their bodies on their own, that's not part of work.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:17 AM on November 6, 2013 [19 favorites]

There's a TED Talk on this issue that I found informative and helpful. I can't link to it from work, but if you google 'ted talk amy cuddy' it should be the first result.
posted by frobozz at 11:17 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Amy Cuddy's talk is amazing and it works. I know from personal experience and from others who have done it.
posted by trinity8-director at 11:18 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

They're in new jobs and both inexperienced. Patience goes a long way, they need to be patient with themselves. Tell them to observe others closely, in meetings, presentations, etc. Have them watch for mannerisms & habits that appeal to them. Tell them to look closely at the emails that they receive, the way people greet & leave each other, all that stuff. Observation at the stages they're at is going to be much more instructive than a list of things to do/avoid doing.

drjimmy11, it's not judging/harassment if "They have both asked me for specific tips on how to appear more confident, even if they don't feel it."
posted by headnsouth at 11:20 AM on November 6, 2013 [16 favorites]

Best answer: It's all about space. The more space you take up, the more presence and power you exude. This is why taller people have an advantage and they get promoted faster and also get higher paying jobs.

How to take up space and create presence:

A confident person automatically takes up space. They do it with their voice. Their voices tend to be clear and resonant. They do it with their bodies- They don't shrink. Their feet point straight ahead or outward- never inward. As in they don't cross their legs much, their shoulders are not hunched forward, they stand up straight, they keep their stance wide, etc.

However Space isn't just physical- it's mental. The physical signs of taking up space merely reflect how "big" you feel inside. If this were the case CEO's would be Tall and overweight. (though most tall people are not overweight). If you feel small then you will naturally try to take up less space regardless of how large you may be on the outside and this results in hunched shoulders, looking downward, toes pointing in, etc..

Then there's the third type of Space which is an element of time. The more space you leave in between actions (the slower and more time you take) the more presence you often exude. Someone who fidgets, moves too quickly or talks fast is seen as less powerful. Blinking less (space between blinks) is also a sign of power and confidence.

Obviously you can take these rules too far. If you don't blink at all you'll look like a psychopath, but to to keep it easy to understand and remember, just remember More Space = More power and confidence.

A person can be big on the outside and small on the inside which would result in their gestures and body language taking up less space than they could. (many obese people have this) A small person could feel big on the inside which would result in them taking up more space than someone their size usually would. When you come across someone who is lucky enough to have the best of both worlds- both big physically and they feel big on the inside - like someone that is 6'1, with a good build AND feels strong and confident- that person is a powerhouse and success awaits them at every corner. Most CEOs of major companies fit this description.
posted by manderin at 11:38 AM on November 6, 2013 [29 favorites]

What headnsouth said! Also, frequently remind them that the firm or organization WANTS them to succeed even more than they want to succeed. That may make them more comfortable and confident. Interviewing/hiring/replacing employees is a major expense/eater of time/cause for a tantrum (kidding on that one, but still...).
posted by Lornalulu at 11:41 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The two big ones: not looking down or away when you're speaking to someone, and speaking clearly and with authority. Speaking clearly and with authority means:
  • Not lowering the volume or increasing the pitch of your voice, or trailing off or lilting up at the end of sentences (especially for women)
  • Using as few filler words (um, er, ah, like) as possible
  • Avoiding weasel words and indefinite language
  • Being unapologetic about stating your opinion or making a request. Examples:
    • Bad: "If it's not too much trouble, would you mind doing X for me? If it's too much trouble don't worry about it." Good: "Will you do X for me?"
    • Bad: "This is just my opinion, but maybe we should Z?" Good: "I think we should Z."
Also not fidgeting or fiddling with your hair, clothes, or jewelry. I have a problem with this and I know it makes me look less confident and assertive and then when I catch myself doing it I feel even more self-conscious and less confident. When I want to make sure I don't do it I try to have something else in my hands--a folder, a water bottle--and then try to be conscious of not fiddling with it.

It also helps to remember that, while looking relatively well-put-together also helps a lot with confidence, having a hair out of place still looks more confident than me fiddling with it to try to make sure it looks OK.
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:47 AM on November 6, 2013 [8 favorites]

1. Shirt and Tie, or a blouse / suitskirt . People need to look the part. When I meet with clients, internal and external, I dress like the expert. In a business casual setting, I dress on par with folks one to two pay grades ahead of me.

2. My manager defers to me as the expert in a meeting. This is critical. If you don't have faith in your employees, expecting others to do so won't happen. You set the tone of how your employees are perceived.

3.When taking on new work, they need to ask clarifying questions which indicate they understand the problem. Chances are that means they also need to take notes.

4. Dry runs. If they are wet behind the ears, dry run the presentation as well as questions with them. That means buffer in 1-2 weeks (in an analytical role) for going over both the presentation as well as the presentation style. This also makes sure both they and you can work the room should dissent occur.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:48 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Dressing appropriately has a lot to do with it. It costs money and time to do so, but if they can afford both it really helps. Wearing classy, durable, and fashionable office wear, styling hair, wearing tasteful jewelry, carrying an appropriate bag, wearing stylish shoes, etc. It not only helps others perceive them differently, but they also feel the part more themselves.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:51 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Send them to Toastmasters.

Encourage them to take opportunities even when they are nervous.

If you're in a position to provide them with specific positive feedback on the things they've done, that will help.

Kindly discourage them from making self-disparaging comments that they would be too nice to make about anyone else.

When they mess things up, reinforce that "failure" is a learning experience, nobody gets good at anything without messing something up, etc etc. Encourage them back on the horse. Teach them that being bad at something is a matter of not having learned it yet, rather than an inherent personal failing.

All of these things will increase their actual confidence, and that will raise their physical appearance of confidence, without you having to spend as much time on the dangerous issue of dress advice!
posted by emilyw at 12:03 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have them think about what they're most afraid of happening during the presentation (worst case scenario). They don't have to tell you, just think about it.

Imagine it happening. Then imagine people's reactions - that they don't care. They just don't care. You flubbed your words and it was no big deal.

Now imagine it happening, and that you feel comfortable and ok regardless. Viscerally imagine feeling ok.

This can help them. Bring their fears to light, realize that the fears are not devastating and they will be ok in either case. I could get more into NLP and future imagination meditations but that would likely be too heavy for job-related coaching and mentoring.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:19 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Honestly, from time to time, I say to myself, if I was really awesome, what would I do in this situation?

FWIW, I was in a media training and I said during an exercise that I didn't feel like I was me but like I was playing a character that looked like me. An outgoing colleague who was in the same training said that he also felt that way. He does ballroom dancing and he feels like he has to be a different person when he does that. He's just a normal guy, not some guy who does ballroom dancing.

Your colleagues might feel comforted to know that this is something that a lot of people deal with, successfully. I look at others as role models too. I had a boss who was a great public speaker. He said that he literally tries telling different stories, explaining things in different ways, during his commute. If I'm going to an event, I will try to think of a few questions people are likely to ask and prepare myself to answer (variations on "how are you?" "how's work?"). I also try to come up with a few questions of my own in case the conversation pauses uncomfortably ("what are you up to this weekend?" "do you have any upcoming travel plans?")

Practice is really helpful. You can encourage your colleagues to try to answer some of their email face-to-face. Toastmasters may also be helpful.
posted by kat518 at 1:18 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I found this book had a lot of useful advice: (The Charisma Myth)
posted by crocomancer at 1:32 PM on November 6, 2013

Best answer: I haven't read all the other answers but in my experience as a middle-school teacher, here's what I've learned about projecting confidence:

1. Speak just a little bit louder and more slowly than you think you should.

2. Use crisp, economized sentences to introduce what you are saying, and then go into more detail.

3. Stand still. Stand comfortably with your weight on both feet, breathe deeply, and face your audience squarely. Don't move around while you talk.

4. Wear clothes and hairstyles and feel comfortable and don't require fussing.

5. Be a bit more emotive with your facial expressions than you would be in a personal conversation - almost as if you were on stage. This engages people and allows you to project the affect that goes along with what you are saying, it also conveys the impression that you care about and are interested in what you are saying.

6. Encourage your employees to build engagement by asking simple, direct questions of the others in the room that are open-ended but not too open-ended. Such as, "does anyone have anything they want to add to the agenda?" rather than "is this agenda okay?" or "what are some challenges people have faced in this area" rather than "does anyone have any thoughts?"
posted by mai at 1:34 PM on November 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm crackingly good at seeming authoritative, but all the advice I'd give has been excellently and clearly given. Definitely public speaking helps: I'd add that when preparing to speak then sweeping the audience with your eyes and smiling cheerfully is a useful tool - let's them know they'll be in good hands. Otherwise DO WHAT THE WISE ASKMEFITES SAY
posted by Sebmojo at 1:59 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Impro by Keith Johnstone (the inventor of theatresports) has lots of good stuff about how to display high status, which is basically what we're talking about here.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:00 PM on November 6, 2013

Toastmasters is OK, but I 'd recommend sending them to the local improv theater for classes. The ability to think quickly and stay present in conversations and get comfortable with your body is something you have to practice, not hear about, and Improv classes (despite being dorky in lots of ways) are awesome for just getting used to being "Onstage".
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:01 PM on November 6, 2013

Body language and style of dressing matter for first impressions, but once coworkers get past the initial impression, they'll be able to tell how competent the person is.

There are people with the best swagger who are incredibly confident (even intimidating) at first, but after they open their mouth a few times, it's clear they know nothing. Others stare at their feet, slouch, shuffle, and are soft-spoken, but once they open their mouth a few times, everyone in the room starts deferring to them.

I would focus more on training them to be effective at their jobs, and ramping them up on challenges of increasing difficulty, rather than trying to "game the system" of initial impressions.

I would also encourage them to speak up when they are sure of their opinion, and to give detailed answers. Imagine:

Coworker: "How tall of a wall do we need to build for this new project?"

Impressive body-confidence person in booming voice: "I'm sure that with our mutual collaboration and synergy, we'll find an effective solution."

Shy body-conscious person while staring down: "11 feet, because load-bearing walls need [blah blah]."
posted by cheesecake at 2:26 PM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

drjimmy11, it's not judging/harassment if "They have both asked me for specific tips on how to appear more confident, even if they don't feel it."

And yet from the description we know only that the female worker is a 'normal' weight and attractive, not the weight and attractiveness of the male employee.

Sexism in these sorts of situations is pervasive - I'd be extremely careful for my own sake in addressing confidence issues with employees based on their physical attributes. There's no reason to go there.
posted by winna at 2:34 PM on November 6, 2013 [12 favorites]

One other thing that I realize I forgot to cover is: know your audience.

The CEO doesn't care about something nitpicky or that something was hard. It is a waste of their time to be talking logistical implementation. A room full of design engineers though, probably do want to know about implementation if the meeting is a technical meeting.

Don't complain to clients unless it is part of the sales strategy. Don't complain to management unless you've got a solution in progress, and don't complain just because something is frustrating. If there is a complaint in a presentation, make sure that there is alignment with said complaint and that it is what the focus of the meeting is about - otherwise under 95% of circumstances, the slide or words are eroding the presenter's credibility.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:12 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The biggest thing I'd say is...okay, a lot of MeFites are going to hate this comparison, but remember the George W. Bush presidential debates with Kerry/Gore? Bush would give a pithy answer and Kerry/Gore would give a rambling monologue that even if it was actually correct, sounded like they were just bullshitting and buying for time? People respect a short, declarative answer, a yes/no answer, more than they respect a longer, rambling answer, even if the rambling answer is more nuanced and correct. Don't explain unless asked.

"When will the thing be done?" "October 25th" is a confident answer. "Well, we ran into some trouble and then John was sick and words words words words October 25th be okay?" is not a confident answer. Likewise, I work with a lot of shy and geeky types and one of the things they want to do is give the MOST correct and MOST nuanced answer but, ironically, trying to give the MOST correct answer sounds like you're bullshitting. Keep it simple, keep it short.

Don't bring up a problem unless you have a solution. This is good advice anyway but it makes it look like you have thought things through rather than just being The Person Who Shoots Things Down or The Contrarian.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:29 PM on November 6, 2013 [8 favorites]

Someone looks and feels more experienced and confident by being more experienced and confident.

Like a boxer who hopes to be a champion one day, new employees need to start with easier bouts, work their way up, build experience and confidence by winning easier fights.

Help them become participants in or even leaders of small groups that maybe do non-work stuff -- the company bicycle group, the recycling committee, etc. -- where they will meet others within the organization and grow more comfortable in their skins without worrying about real work projects.

Also get them up in front of non-work crowds to get used to the feeling without risking work prestige. Toastmasters or the like.

Sandbox play. Sandboxing.
posted by pracowity at 10:25 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all. I am going to compile many of these "tips and tricks" and pass them to both of them. Their self-assessments (some aspects of which I alluded to in my question) make me think that they will have no problem applying the material well without me having to get too personal in the discussion. These ideas, combined with the formal coaching they will receive from their supervisors, and the training they will get as part of our official career development program, should help keep them on the right track. Both of them are already doing well, so our mentoring sessions are more about "smoothing the path" than dealing with career-limiting issues.
posted by rpfields at 1:12 AM on November 7, 2013

« Older Who made this candle holder, and where can I find...   |   The trouble with truffles Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.