Mar 09, 2012

Dear Gracie: 8 Ways to Project Confidence in the Workplace

Each week, Dear Gracie answers questions from ProfNet Connect readers with advice from our network of nearly 50,000 ProfNet experts. Has there been a question burning in your mind lately, something you’ve been wondering that none of your colleagues can answer? Please send it to grace.lavigne@prnewswire.com

Dear Gracie,

I’m about to start a new job, and I want to put my best foot forward. I know I’ll be nervous and insecure about myself for at least the first few weeks. Do you have any tips on how I can seem more confident?

Novel Nerves

*************

Dear Novel Nerves,

Eight ProfNet experts offer up eight tips on projecting confidence at the office:

1. Walk tall

“Do what your mom told you as a kid — stand up straight!” says Stephen Balzac, president of the management consulting firm 7 Steps Ahead, and psychology professor at Wentworth Institute of Technology. “This is the first and most important step in projecting confidence.”

If you improve your posture, you will also increase your confidence; and the more confident you feel, the more confident you will act, he says.

Walk with a long spine and open chest without crossing your arms, adds Sharon Jakubecy, speaker trainer, performance coach and certified Alexander Technique teacher. You’ll seem more open and approachable.

And just before you enter a room or a meeting, let the breath out of your mouth, she suggests. “This releases uncomfortable tension in your neck, shoulders and jaw, which can make you look aggressive and off-putting.”

Don’t stand slumped over, with your hands in your pockets, not making eye contact, stresses Scott Sobel, president of Media & Communications Strategies, who has a master’s degree in media psychology from Touro University Worldwide.

2. Shake hands like a politician

You’ve heard this one before, but it’s important: Don’t give the “half-hand shake,” says Billy Lowe, celebrity hairstylist. It feels weird, and tells people you’re not fully committed. A good handshake requires three things: full hand, firm grip, solid shake.

3. Look your best, feel your best

Showing up to work in ill-fitting clothing, hair unkempt and a “run out the door” image does nothing for your self-confidence, Lowe says. “If you look great, you feel great.” People will notice and compliment you, which in turn will boost your self-esteem even more.

Moreover, image conveys volumes about work ethic. “People that are up on their beauty and image routines are usually more polished, together, composed and self-assured,” Lowe continues.

“How you carry yourself and dress in the workplace often gives coworkers tips on your attitude and demeanor,” agrees Nancy A. Shenker, founder and CEO of the marketing company theONswitch and co-author of “Don’t Hook Up With the Dude in the Next Cube: 200+ Secrets for New Grads.”

Furthermore, if you roll your eyes at coworkers’ ideas, pay more attention to your smartphone than your colleagues, or consistently flaunt designer duds and pricey bling; you’re sending out the message: “It’s all about ME!” she says.

4. Speak easy

Practice speaking in an even tone, without unnecessary pauses or hesitations, says Balzac. “We perceive confident speech to be speech without gaps.”

And — believe it or not — it’s actually better to say “um” than to let silence reign, he says.

Don’t speak too fast either, Balzac adds. “Rapid speech makes people feel rushed. Confident speakers know they have the time to deliver their message.” Try recording yourself or practicing in front of someone else to see get feedback.

“Rushing makes you and your body more stressed,” agrees Jakubecy. “Your voice will be higher pitched and strained.”

To relax your voice, hum or sing before you go into work or a meeting, she suggests. “This warms up your voice so you sound like an expert. It gets your body moving too so you walk into work feeling more relaxed and connected to your body and voice.”

5. Put your boxing gloves on

To appear poised, recall a time when you were at your best, and create a buzzword related to that emotional state, says Gregg Steinberg, motivational speaker, professor of human performance at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee and author of “Full Throttle: How to Supercharge Your Performance at Work.”

The buzzword should represent the confidence you felt in that situation, like “bulldog” or “fighter,” for example. Say the word to yourself each time you start a routine, or right before you begin a task.

For instance, say your buzzword every time you have face-to-face meetings. Your confidence will get a boost when you are already in a positive mental place.

(My buzzword? Tiger-claw!)

6. Give credit where credit’s due

When Vicky Oliver — author of five books on career development, including “301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions” and “The Millionaire’s Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire Even if You’re Not” — worked in the advertising industry, she met five people who all claimed to have written the “I Love New York” campaign. “It doesn’t take five people to write five words,” she says.

It takes a confident person to let someone else shine, and doing so will highlight your integrity and assuredness. So if you are the boss or colleague of someone who did something brilliant, bend over backwards to give the person credit, says Oliver.

7. Let others put in their two cents

“A monologue may be fine if you’re a comic, but confidence is demonstrated by your ability to let people in,” says Balzac.

Stay in control of conversations by asking questions, he says. “Ask other people about themselves, what they are doing, what matters to them.”

Be a good listener by trying to find the underlying message in someone’s words, and don’t interrupt, says Oliver. “Conversely, if someone interrupts you, smile at him or her and do your best to tolerate it. You will win more admiration that way.”

8. Always keep it classy

Admit it — we get annoyed with our coworkers sometimes. Whether someone is bragging too much, giving you unwanted advice or gossiping up a storm, always take the high road and people will think you’re trustworthy and dignified.

People who brag are doing it because they want to feel successful, says Jill Spiegel, author of “How to Talk to Anyone About Anything! The Secrets to Connecting.” Trying to “one up” them severs the connection, so instead, celebrate their success. For example, if a coworker says “I noticed on the sales report that I was the top performer again this week.” Respond with: “That’s exciting. I’m impressed!”

Similarly, if someone gives you advice you didn’t ask for or don’t agree with, don’t respond by explaining why their suggestion won’t work; just make them feel helpful through appreciation and diplomacy, she says. If a coworker says “I’m reading a book about decorating the office for more productivity. Your area needs a few plants. You should get some.” Say something in return like: “Thanks for your idea. I’ll give that some thought.”

And if one of your co-workers in the lunchroom makes a gossipy remark like “Julie’s desk is a mess. I happen to know her sister is a hoarder,” just remember that people gossip to feel important, says Spiegel. Even when others chuckle or seem interested in the gossip, everyone else ends up thinking “What will they about me next?”

Create an inclusive atmosphere by responding with something upbeat, and then redirect the conversation, like: “Julie has such a great laugh. Hey, your presentation today was powerful! Have you always enjoyed speaking for groups?”

Employers, clients and colleagues pick up on defensive behavior and lack of positive wording, says Sobel. Speak and act in an empathetic and welcoming way so everyone sees you as part of the team.

Good luck!

Gracie

Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.

Image courtesy of Flickr user caguard

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