Confidence is always appealing. When we see someone with a warm smile and an open stance, we’re more likely to want a personal or professional relationship with that person. But how do we project confidence to others? Body-language signals like eye contact, smiling, a firm handshake, and good posture all contribute to an image of assurance and positivity that will make you attractive to others.
1. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
I always feel most comfortable with people who maintain steady eye contact throughout our conversations. That tells me that they’ve got nothing to hide and shows me that they’re comfortable with themselves.
A study published in the October 1993 issue of the Journal of Social Psychology supports this idea about eye contact and self-esteem. Male and female students at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, were randomly assigned to one of six groups that each viewed a different sixty-second videotape. In the tapes, a model held either five, thirty, or fifty seconds of eye contact with an interviewer. After viewing their respective tapes, the students used ten scales to rate how they perceived the model’s self-esteem. On all ten, the more eye contact the model made, the higher the self-esteem scores the students gave her.
The models and subjects in this study were all American, and the results may vary across cultures, but in most of the Western world, steady eye contact is a positive attribute for anyone who wants to land a job, get a date, or just make a good impression. It shows people that you think well of yourself and that they should, too.
2. Crack a Smile, Break the Ice
High self-esteem is attractive, but so is the ability to make others feel good about themselves. That’s why smiles are so alluring; a warm grin can instantly put others at ease and boost their confidence for having caused it.
In 2009, a study by Maastricht University in Holland concluded that women with negative self-image felt significantly better about themselves after being greeted by smiling faces. The study, led by psychologist Carolien Martijn, tested fifty-seven women on their levels of body satisfaction and self-esteem, then showed them pictures of themselves among photos of other women. Twenty-six of the women’s photos were always followed by smiling faces, and the others were followed by randomly neutral, smiling, or frowning faces. For the first group, who always saw smiling faces after their pictures, self-image ratings increased. No significant changes were reported in the other group.
“The positive effect we witnessed supports the idea that body satisfaction may be linked to the idea of social approval,” Martijn told the Daily Mail.
In other words, we feel better about ourselves when other people reinforce our confidence through smiles, among other things. And naturally, we gravitate toward those who facilitate our positive self-image.
3. Don’t Be a “Wet Noodle”
Another important body-language cue, especially for job interviews and business meetings, is one’s handshake. It really does matter—Greg Stewart, from the University of Iowa, published a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology that shows we tend to consider people with limp, “wet noodle” handshakes timid and unimpressive, whereas we perceive those who shake hands with a firm “pump” as confident and hirable. Stewart looked at ninety-eight undergraduates participating in mock interviews with businesses and asked five “handshake raters” to grade their performance.
“The first impression begins with a handshake that sets the tone for the rest of the interview,” said Stewart. “We don’t consciously remember a person’s handshake, but it is one of the first non-verbal clues we get about the person’s overall personality, and that impression is what we remember.”
Be careful, though—you want your handshake to be firm and assertive, but not too aggressive. Avoid the “bone crushers” that indicate egotism, a controlling personality, and untrustworthiness, according to the body-language experts Stewart cited.
4. Get Up, Stand Up
We know that poor posture can project low self-esteem. When we slouch, the message we send is that we don’t care enough to stand up straight and be attentive. But posture’s lesser-known link to confidence is its effect on our own thoughts. According to researchers at Ohio State University, people who sit up straight are more likely to believe positive ideas about themselves than those who slouch are.
The authors of the study, which appeared in the October 2009 issue of the European Journal of Social Psychology, told seventy-one Ohio State students that they would be taking part in two separate studies: one for the business school, one for the arts school. They told the students that the arts study would examine people’s acting abilities—specifically, the ability to maintain a set posture while engaging in other activities—and asked them to sit at a computer desk either up straight with their chests out, or slouched forward, facing their knees.
While holding these postures, the students participated in the business study, listing either three positive or three negative personal traits related to future job performance and taking a survey in which they rated themselves as a future professionals. The students’ ratings of their future careers depended on their posture as they wrote down their positive or negative traits: the upright students were more likely to rate themselves well, whereas the slumped students gave themselves more negative ratings.
The results of the study are yet another example of “you fake it ’til you make it,” says coauthor Richard Petty: “If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you’re in.” And you’ll end up convincing those around you, too.
We have about twenty-five seconds to make a first impression, so whether you’re trying to catch a job, catch a mate, or just be a catch, it’s important to project confidence at all times. Showing self-esteem and making others feel attractive at the same time plays a big part in your becoming the most striking person in any room.