A lot of people say this to me. Act confident and you will become confident. Get up and get back on the horse. But now it is proven. An article in the Harvard Business Review (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6461.html) discusses a study showing that how you act can definitely affect how you feel…and how others feel about you. According to Amy J.C. Cuddy one of the researchers, “Now there is established research showing that while it’s true that facial expressions reflect how you feel, you can also ‘fake it until you make it.’ In other words, you can smile long enough that it makes you feel happy.”
The article goes on to provide tips on how powerful or expansive poses can actually make you feel more confident. So yes it really does matter if you sit with your arms crossed. It finds that women are more prone to closed poses and changing this can increase your feeling of power. It works conversely too. It doesn’t just change how you’re feeling; it changes how people feel about you. The study reinforces that “people often are more influenced by how they feel about you than by what you’re saying”. Understanding this can increase your impact in the business world and beyond.
The article’s author Julie Hanna highlights that “people underestimate the powerful connection of warmth and overestimate the importance of competence.” When you project more warmth and confidence it creates a greater connection than just doing a good job. Women often sit back and think their work will speak for itself but it has more to do with how you present your work and ideas. So how you act influences how people feel about you, which trumps what you are actually saying. Cuddy says.
“People tend to spend too much energy focusing on the words they’re saying—perfectly crafting the content of the message—when in many cases that matters much less than how it’s being communicated. People often are more influenced by how they feel about you than by what you’re saying. It’s not about the content of the message, but how you’re communicating it.”
A forty-something I spoke to had an interesting take on this. When you understand that everyone is faking it, you can be more open and less judgmental.
“One of my professors in graduate school used to tell me that confidence is as much a rhetorical position as it is a real attitude that people carry with them. Just because someone is projecting confidence through what they say and the way they act has no relationship to whether they actually feel confident all the time. That’s liberating because you can project outside confidence even if you don’t feel you have it. But then you also have to understand that these are people. People have feelings. You have to respect that that’s a human being whether or not they seem like they got every answer. One of the wisest things that anyone has said to me was that the more you get to know people, the more you realize how everyone’s got their own little universe.”– 40-something, Los Angeles, CA