Research tells us that there is a gender gap when it comes to self-confidence.[i] Women generally have less confidence than men and this is so in all stages of life. Ugh… that sounds depressing, no? Well wait, it gets worse for us ladies, but then it gets better. Stay with me…
Teaching communication in higher education for the past 17 years, and helping clients increase their communication confidence for the past 10 years, I have learned that our true attitudes and feelings literally leak out of us.[ii] Our non-verbal language gives away a lot of information, often times, unintentionally. I’ll spare you all the academic speak, (but let me know if you want the deets, because I LOVE talking about this research.) This confidence gap and subsequent weak communication skills, put women at a stark disadvantage in our professional and personal lives.
If women consistently have low levels of self-confidence leaking out of them, they are curbing their potential. They can be residually viewed as less competent, less intelligent, less capable and therefore be passed up for promotions, achieve less value in negotiations, settle for unfulfilling relationships and have less influence over others.
I am done with the doldrums now, here is the good news…
Women can easily take control and ensure we present ourselves confidently. We just have to start paying closer attention to how we communicate. There are countless opportunities to increase the effectiveness of our communication. However, in an effort to keep things simple for now, here are three things you can do today:
1. Posture. Are you making yourself smaller by slouching? Occupying less space? Do you look like you are trying to disappear into the woodwork? Go unnoticed? Stop it. Sit up, spread your shoulders wide, and take up more space. Present yourself in a “proud” stance. Your posture should communicate that you are present, believe that you have a right to be there, and confidently look for opportunities wherever you may go because you believe in yourself.
I once had a meeting with a potential client who was incredibly powerful and influential. It was a contract that would have been my biggest thus far. I was nervous. In the waiting area, just moments before the meeting, I caught myself with crossed legs, slouched posture, and taking up little space. (Ahem… I was proposing a program on body language!) Immediately I sat up, corrected my posture, expanded my shoulders and headed into the meeting… where I secured the contract.
2. Eye contact. Take every opportunity to look someone in the eyes. Eye contact inspires trust, credibility and confidence. Eye contact says, I am listening to you, you are important enough to spend a moment with and I have nothing to hide. (Conversely, if you are garnering unwanted attention and would like to move along, avoid eye-contact.) Be aware and intentional about maintaining eye contact.
When new students walk into my classroom I greet them and continue to engage them in conversation until they look me in the eyes. Some conversations are longer than others. Not only should they know how to look their instructor in the eye, I also want to communicate to them, that I see them and they are important to me. Eye contact communicates this message in a matter of seconds.
3. Upspeak: Too often, I hear women raise the pitch of their voice at the ends of their sentences. This then makes it sound like a question, as if they are unsure of themselves. Work on the pitch of your voice. Try this, say this sentence as a question and then a confident statement.
“I think that is a terrible idea.”
Hear the difference? Practice important messaging in a confident tone. Know when you are going to end your sentence and stop with purpose. Your vocal pitch should sound purposeful and confident. Catch yourself and practice in formal presentations and everyday conversations.
One client was preparing for a courtroom testimony. Too often, her answers ended with a higher pitch. This inspired doubt. The defense attorney was going to have a field day during her cross-examination. We could not let that happen. We practiced how she would end every one of her sentences again and again. Just by changing her pitch, she came off confidently in her answers and deterred a messy cross-examination.
The effort to increase the look and sound of confidence can be overwhelming. However, remember weak communication skills curb potential. Making time to close this confidence gap and improve the way you present yourself is worth the effort! Make it easier by starting with just a few steps. Be aware of where you can improve and then change the littlest nuances in your posture, eye contact and pitch this week. Next thing you know you’ll be strolling around the office like a boss!
[i] The Confidence Code, The Science and Art of Self-Assurance- What Women Should Know by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman Harper Business (2014)
[ii] Thin Slices of Expressive Behavior as Predictors of Interpersonal Consequences: A Meta-Analysis. Jan 1st 1992, Psychological Bulletin, Volume 111, Issue 2.