We all go through peaks and troughs of confidence in ourselves and our abilities. A promotion, winning a competition, or a failed relationship can all affect our confidence drastically.
But sometimes the best way to build up your confidence can be to start with projecting a more confident image to others. Most of us care more about what others think than we’d like to admit, so having others believe we’re confident can feed into our own self-confidence and boost it up.
Try these three small adjustments to project more confidence to your friends and colleagues.
1. Make more jokes—but make sure they land
We’ve all cringed at a co-worker’s awkward joke before and felt sympathy for them when barely a ripple of laughter emerged from the group. It feels terrible to make a joke that doesn’t come off. It can also affect how people think about us, according to research.
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology measured how we rate other people who make jokes, and how our opinions are affected by whether the jokes land or not.
Participants in the study were asked to judge the people behind testimonials written for a made-up company. Funny testimonials earned their writers higher ratings of status, competence, and confidence.
In another experiment, participants read about a job interview. In some cases, the candidate had responded to a question humorously. Those who made a joke that was received well (making the interviewer laugh) were seen as been higher status than those whose jokes failed.
An alternative version of the job interview experiment included candidates that answered a question with a tasteless joke involving sexual innuendo. Candidates whose tasteless joke was met with laughter by the interviewer were rated lower than those who didn’t make a joke at all. But those whose crass joke didn’t elicit laughter were judged even worse, and were seen as low status and incompetent by the study’s participants.
Overall, participants in the study always rated those who made jokes as more confident, even when the jokes didn’t land. The researchers suggest that the risk of a joke failing is what makes jokers seem so confident: even if their joke doesn’t land, we’re impressed that they were willing to take the risk.
The study suggests crass jokes aren’t a great choice—particularly in a job interview—but attempting a joke can project confidence to others.
2. Change your body language
According to Amy Cuddy, professor at Harvard Business School and author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, bold body language can help you “feel more powerful psychologically.” Improving your posture, taking bigger strides, and standing or sitting in a more open pose can all help. Cuddy suggests that carrying “yourself in a way that conveys power, poise, and healthy pride” will help you feel “less guarded, more optimistic, more focused on goals, and more likely to take a stand.”
Kasia Wezowski, business coach and founder of the Center for Body Language, agrees that adjusting your body language can improve how confident you appear. Wezowski and her colleagues measured the body language of participants in a startup pitch contest, adding points for positive, confident body langauge, and removing points for negative signals like fidgeting. When the winners were announced, Wezowski found higher body language ratings from her team correlated to higher finishing places for those contestants.
Wezowski doesn’t posit that body language made those teams win, but she did find a strong correlation between confident body language and success.
To improve your own body language, Wezowksi suggests practicing a few basic shapes. The box shape is also known as “the Clinton box,” as it was taught to Bill Clinton early in his career. Clinton was known for using big, wide gestures that made him appear untrustworthy, so his advisors taught him to imagine a box in front of his chest and stomach and contain his hands within it. Smaller gestures appear more trustworthy, and the imagined box helps limit the size of your gestures.
Another shape suggested by Wezowski is “holding the ball.” Imagine you’re holding a basketball in front of you, and put your hands either side of it. This pose, says Wezowski, portrays confidence and control. As does “pyramid hands,” where your fingertips touch, creating a pyramid shape between your hands. This shape stops your hands fidgeting or flitting about, which tends to show that you’re nervous.
3. Improve your appearance
How we look tends to affect how we feel and how we think, as well as how others see us. Changing your wardrobe to match the situation, or simply dressing up, can improve your confidence.
One study found, for instance, that people who are dressed up tend to describe themselves as more competent and rational, whereas people dressed in casual clothes describe themselves more often as friendly and laid-back. So dressing to fit the image you want to portray can really help.
Another study found being overdressed compared to others in the room may make you feel more like a leader, which in turn leads you to think more creatively about big-picture issues.
Exercising can also help, as it encourages the release of hormones that make you feel good, and improving your physical state can make you feel more confident about yourself.
Of course we all want to be more confident, but sometimes faking it ’til you make it is the quickest way to change how we feel—and how others think of us. Making (tasteful) jokes, even if they fail, using bold body language, and dressing up can all help you project a more confident image, and perhaps you’ll start to feel more confident as a result.