Appearing Confident in Work

A large determiner of success in the workplace is our level of self-confidence. People who seem tentative or nervous tend not to receive the admiration and promotion that their more confident colleagues may win. Yet many people who lack self-confidence are nonetheless very competent, hardworking and capable.

So how can we appear more confident? Building up confidence takes time but, to an extent, confidence can be ‘faked’. Even if you are a nervous wreck inside, presenting a confident face to the world can change the way you are perceived by others. Over time, these behaviours may even make you feel more confident.

Making small, conscious changes to our behaviour can make a big difference.

If you want to appear more confident in work, you need to be more visible and engage with colleagues more. Try not to avoid the people you work with, even if you would rather be left alone.

Devices such as smartphones are also sometimes used by underconfident people to avoid making eye contact or conversation. When seeing someone they would rather not talk to, they might reach for their phone and pretend to be busy or distracted. Not looking away from the computer screen might be another way of avoiding interaction with colleagues.

When communicating with people, make an effort to look them in the eye. Looking at the floor or looking away from the person instantly makes you appear underconfident. Smiling will also make you appear and feel less nervous.

Therefore, look people in the eye, smile and acknowledge them – the more you do it, the more comfortable it will become, and the more confident you will appear.

If you need to shake someone by the hand, do it firmly and with confidence – a weak or feeble handshake suggests a lack of confidence. Where possible, make the first move and initiate the handshake.

Our nervousness can be betrayed by our body language. Without realising it, we might find ourselves crossing our arms in front of us when talking to someone. This indicates that you are feeling defensive or vulnerable.

Pacing, fidgeting and handwringing also suggest nervousness and anxiety, which can also make others feel uneasy. Such body language should be avoided.

If standing, try to keep your arms at your side, generally keeping them still but making controlled hand-gestures if appropriate. If seated, they can be rested in your lap or on a table.

When we are nervous, we sometimes slouch and perhaps lean on an object, such as the back of a chair or a table. It is also common to move nervously, pacing back and forth, tapping one’s foot on the floor or shifting one’s weight from one leg to another. Subconsciously, you may be preparing to run away from some perceived threat. This can occur during presentations or even in conversations with colleagues with whom we feel nervous.

Instead, one should stand still, balancing one’s weight between two legs. This shows that you are relaxed with the situation, you are going to stand firm and not run away. Taking such a stance will make you seem more confident.

At meetings, an underconfident person may come in at the last minute and take a seat at the back of the room or on the far edge of the table. Instead, one should aim to sit in a ‘power seat’. These are the seats, particularly at the middle or head of the table, where you can be seen by the other participants and are in a position to engage with them effectively.

To some people, confidence seems to come naturally, but for others it is much more of a challenge. However, it is something that can be learned and developed over time.

About the author

Nathan joined RWA in 2016 on successfully completing his PhD. He previously worked in the private, public and charitable sectors. Nathan leads the content and professional standards team at RWA and is responsible for managing and curating technical content on the Aviva Development Zone and the award-winning My Development Zone e-learning platforms.

Since joining RWA, Nathan has written hundreds of business skills e-learning modules and assessments on a variety of subjects, including leadership and management, communication skills, human resources, employability, regeneration, citizenship and equalities.

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