WSJ: Mastering Art of Conveying Confidence

The following is an article from the Wall Street Journal, covering how to use body language to convey confidence, including insights and research from Quantified Communications.

Mastering Art of Conveying Confidence

By Sue Shellenbarger

Most people work hard pulling down degrees and polishing resumes in hopes of impressing hiring managers. But many neglect to master one of the most important hot buttons for employers – body language.

People rely on nonverbal cues such as posture and eye contact to evaluate others very quickly after an initial meeting, forming a first impression within 15 to 20 seconds, says Noah Zandan, president of Quantified Communications, an Austin, Texas, communications-analytics firm. No matter how hard a person tries to perfect a presentation or job-interview answers, 90% of listeners’ first impressions of a speaker remain unchanged after hearing the content of his or her message, Zandan says.

Some young adults undermine that first impression by shifting their weight from one foot to another when speaking, Zandan says. Others lean to one side and thrust their chest and one shoulder forward in what he calls “the heart posture,” a pose that is common among young women in social-media photos and videos.

“It’s important to avoid any body language that makes you look youthful or unintelligent, or not in full command of what’s going on,” says Briar Goldberg, Quantified Communications’ director of feedback.

To raise body-language awareness, Stanford University professor Deborah Gruenfeld created a class for M.B.A. candidates called “Acting with Power.” The 36-student course, which teaches the use of posture and other nonverbal signals of status and authority, has had waiting lists of up to 100 students every term since it began six years ago.

Many students enter the class with bad habits of slouching, standing on one foot or always crossing their legs when seated, says Gruenfeld, a professor of organizational behavior in Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

Together with a co-instructor, Gruenfeld uses coaching and role-playing to teach the “physical manifestations of status – ways of holding your head, moving your eyes, and sitting and standing and speaking” that convey confidence, she says.

Students learn to assume a “squared-off stance, like a fortress,” with feet spread wide and weight distributed evenly between them, to respond to a challenge or emphasize a point. Other students practice “the ability to deliver a message with a straight face,” without the nervous smile that signals low status, Gruenfeld says.

Some students object to managing their body language, saying, “I’m really concerned about my authenticity. I don’t want to be faking it,” Gruenfeld says. She tells them that their current physical habits aren’t really of their own making either. They’re the result of conditioning by others, who have taught them since childhood to avoid behaving in ways that are “above your rank.” Children and teens are required to defer to their elders; young girls are often taught that crossing their legs is a sign of femininity, even though it’s seen by many as a low-power pose, as described in my “Work & Family” column.

“Status is a key determinant of how relationships work,” Gruenfeld says. To succeed in the workplace, “you have to learn to use your body in a way” that sends an authentic message about your role and relationships with others.

Readers, have you ever thought about your body-language habits, or tried to adopt a new stance or physical pose for a job interview or presentation? Has your posture ever caused you problems in work-related situations? Does the way you stand or sit affect how you feel or perform?