Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What's The Deal With Confidence?

One of the most common topics of self-improvement advice, in particular with regards to dating, is to be more confident. Why is this trait so important, and how do you build confidence when you don't already have it?

Clearing The Air

Before we can discuss confidence, we need to define it. There are a lot of misconceptions about what confidence is or looks like, so I'd like to start by disentangling it from a couple of other traits.

Tangled Wires
Uh, this might take a little while...
photo credit: GS+ via photopin cc

When you think of someone who is confident, you probably picture someone who's loud, outgoing, and personable. Or, in other words, an extrovert. Well, you're right that such a person is probably fairly confident in themselves, but that's only one piece of the puzzle. There's actually three traits that often get conflated into one concept we mistakenly call confidence.
Outgoingness: This is the degree to which you are extroverted. While it does typically take some level of confidence to put yourself out there, your inclination to do so is actually a wholly separate trait.

Social Calibration: This describes how well a person is able to gauge the temperament of the people they interact with and adjust their communication style to accommodate that person comfortably.

Confidence: This is the level to which you are sure of yourself in a given situation.
So that person you were thinking of before? Imagine them lacking one of these qualities. If he1 lacks the Outgoingness, then he's going to be quieter and more subdued, but when you engage him one-on-one or in a small group, he's going to still be pleasant to talk with and likely seem to have a quiet strength about him. If the person lacks Social Calibration, then they're that loud, obnoxious guy talking to everyone at the bar with a lot of energy and making everyone uncomfortable. If the person lacks confidence, then they're going to be needy and clingy. They'll come up to you and engage you in pleasant conversation, but there's going to be a level of nervous energy there and they'll be constantly asking for your input as a form of external validation, which is emotionally draining.

Yelling Man
photo credit: HeyThereSpaceman. via photopin cc

Now imagine someone who has ONLY confidence going for them out of these three. They're full of themselves, they corner people into one-on-one situations, and they make everyone around them uncomfortable. Clearly, confidence isn't the end-all-be-all of attraction, but it still plays an important role in how attractive we seem to other people.

The Confidential Edge

What is it about confidence that gives us an advantage when interacting with other people?

Pensive Businessman
"Isn't it obvious?"
photo credit: SalFalko via photopin cc

When we're confident, we're relaxed. While this is benefit enough in and of itself, being relaxed also leads to us giving relaxed signals through our body language, tone, and mannerisms, which encourages those we interact with to relax and be more comfortable around us. This is hugely advantageous to us no matter who we're talking with, but it's particularly useful in dating scenarios. It helps our potential romantic partners to feel comfortable with lowering some of their defenses around us, which is important for us to be able to form a connection with them.

In addition, when we read as confident it also communicates our social strengths. You may be the most personable and inoffensive guy on the planet, but if you're giving off unconfident signals then people are going to be hesitant to engage with you, and when they do it's going to be much more difficult to communicate your personality to them. In this way, confidence is a lot like a pipeline. The more clogged up it gets with self-doubt and second-guessing, the less of your personality is going to be able to flow through it. Whereas if the pipeline is fairly clear of those hang-ups, and you're feeling confident, the more easily you'll be able to convey who you are as a person.

Building Confidence

Alright, so now we understand what confidence is and why it's important, but how do we build it up if we're just not naturally confident?

One of the best ways to become more confident is to fake it. Even if you're not naturally confident, by adopting confident body language or speech patterns you'll not only seem more confident to other people, but you'll also trick your brain into thinking you're more confident, which trains you to actually BE more confident. I'm sure you've heard the phrase "mind over matter" before, but the reverse is just as true. You can trick your mind into adopting any attitude if you provide it with the right stimulation, and when your body is saying one thing the mind tries to follow suit to avoid dissonance.

What kind of body language is confident? Imagine that there's a string attached to the top of your head and it's being pulled up. Your spine straightens, your shoulders roll back a bit, and your arms dangle loosely at your sides. This is a confident stance. Rather than folding into yourself by slouching, crossing your arms, or compacting your shoulders, you're standing up tall and keeping your chest puffed slightly out. You could even go so far as to strike a "superhero" pose and place your fists on your hips for a few minutes before you go out, and that will often put you in a more confident frame of mind.

Man Posing In Costume
Bonus points for wearing a costume!
photo credit: Fonzie's cousin via photopin cc

Other examples of confident body language include spreading out, draping an arm across the back of the empty seat next to you, making and keeping eye contact2, and adopting "open" body language by not crossing your arms and turning partially towards the person you're engaging.3 You also want to slow down. If you're nervously fidgeting with your phone or your drink, you're not going to come across as confident. You want to be still and any action you do take should be fluid and smooth. If you're feeling a little nervous, then practice moving at about half the speed your body wants to move. You'd be surprised just how much taking your time can build up your self-confidence, and it makes you seem incredibly relaxed and confident.

Speaking of taking your time, you want to do the same with your speech patterns. If the other person is talking, then you want to engage in active listening. Don't just wait for your turn to speak, but really listen and try to understand what they're saying. Ask questions to clarify things or to nudge the conversation along. When you do speak, try maintaining a calm tone. Often, we speak at a higher pitch than is natural for us, so learning to slow down and use a lower, more natural tone will not only make you seem confident, but also increase your sex appeal. For that matter, we often speak much more quickly than is necessary. Take your time and you'll find people are much more attentive to what you have to say. And on a final note, try to eliminate filler speech like "um," "uh," or "Well..." If you find yourself wanting to use one of these, just pause for a second or two instead. Not only does this make you seem more confident, but it also makes you seem more intelligent and thoughtful as well.

Like any other skill, confidence can be learned. For some it will come naturally while others will have to put some extra time and effort into developing it. Regardless of how you get there, becoming confident will give you an advantage in almost all walks of life. Plus, it's an instant +5 to sex appeal.

1 I'm using the masculine pronoun here for convenience, but most of what I say on this topic will apply to women as well.
2 And when you break that eye contact, never glance down. Always look to the side or up. Looking down is a submissive gesture and will undermine any air of confidence you may have going for you.
3 I'd advise not to face them head-on however because that can read as aggressive. Instead, turn so that you're mostly facing them, but turned slightly to either side. This makes you seem inviting without being intimidating.

No comments:

Post a Comment