Research has brought our attention to the confidence gap that exists between men and women. It is the idea that men tend to feel more confident than women, in all stages of life. (1) The problem is that our true feelings and attitudes leak out of us, thus unintentionally showing others how we really feel. So when we don’t feel confident, or we do not pay attention to how we show up, we can communicate a lack of belief in ourselves to others. When these ‘others’ are decision makers, this is a cycle that can provide quite a challenge for women who are trying to succeed.
Can this confidence gap truly exist?
If we know confidence is an important skill for success, how can we empower women to show up more confidently? I needed to learn more. As part of a faculty research cohort, I tested this confidence gap theory among college students. We found that our female students presented less confidently. This finding had everything to do with the female students’ body language. The women showed less confident body language while presenting in front of their classmates. That was it!
Since then I have been on a mission to help women show up more confidently so they can thrive in whatever direction they desire!
Is this REALLY a Problem?
Y. E. S. When we communicate with a lack of confidence, we lose opportunities. We may not be offered that job, or that raise, a second date, necessary funding, or that “opportunity of a lifetime.” Communication research has proven again and again that we are judged on something as ‘small’ as our tone of voice. It then should be no surprise that judgements are also made based on our posture, facial expressions, movement, or how much space we take up. These judgements help others to determine if we appear that we know what we are talking about, and then, if they trust us, like us and believe in us.
Simply put, if we can authentically show up with confidence, more doors will open.
So, how do we show up confidently?
Step 1: Take inventory.
I will never forget waiting for the elected official to welcome me in to his office. We were to discuss my potential training programs for his staff. It was my first big potential contract and I felt quite nervous. Minutes away from entering the meeting to pitch my “Increase Your Influence through Communication Behaviors” training program, I realized how nervous I appeared. I had my legs crossed so tightly that my muscles were twitching and my posture was unintentionally slouched. My arms were crossed, resting on my legs. I certainly did not look confident or that I could influence anyone! Recognizing this, I took inventory; what was wrong? How could I improve my body language?
Do you know what messages your body language might be sending? Take inventory. Be aware of your body position, movement, facial expressions and how much space you take up!
Point blank: Do you LOOK confident?
(And yes, I got the gig!)
Step 2: Take Up Space
Physical meeting: Taking up physical space is more obvious when we are in an in-person meeting. Spread your body out, as naturally as you can. Research tells us that the more space we take up, the more powerful we feel.(2) Spread your shoulders out, sit/stand up straight with erect posture, raise your chin ever-so-slightly, spread out your materials on the table (as appropriately as possible), and naturally gesture with your arms and hands, when speaking. Literally, take up more space.
Virtual meetings: When you are in a virtual meeting, you must still pay attention to your body language but I also suggest you take up verbal space. Make your presence known by contributing to the conversation in a meaningful way. (Notice I am not encouraging you to talk just to hear yourself talk, because that will backfire and decrease your influence.)
When we take up space, we send the message that we belong. #takeupspace
Prepare for the meeting by planning where you will contribute. What questions you will ask? What comments you will make? Set a verbal space goal; how many comments do you intend to contribute? How many questions do you want to ask? To who do you want to respond? How can you best contribute to show your expertise? Plan your communication tools and set the goal of taking up meaningful verbal and physical space.
Step 3: Be Prepared
Our level of preparation must include preparing for the unexpected. I suggest to my clients that we have certain sayings (‘communication tools’) prepared, which you have at the ready, in case anything unexpected arises.
Once I arrived to a meeting where I knew a disgruntled colleague would be there. I had an inkling he may try to cast blame on me for something I had no involvement in. I prepared a few sentences, prior to the meeting just in case he started coming for me in that meeting. When, in fact, he tried to direct the conversation towards this occurrence, I knew exactly what to say and did not hesitate. The conversation went no further and we were able to finish the meeting without any hard feelings.
Why this is so important is because when we do not have those sayings ready, we leave it to chance. We hope we can articulate our thoughts in the moment, but too often, we can’t, so it becomes too difficult and we are more apt to stay quiet. I did not want to stay quiet if this colleague was going to question me, so I prepared. Don’t just prepare for the obvious. Think about what other potential topics may arise, both formally or informally. Prepare for the unexpected. Rehearse the communication tools so when it flies out of your mouth, it is intentional and well thought out so you do not appear to un- or under prepared.
While there are many ways we can present ourselves in the most powerful manner, these three steps are sure fire ways to increase your ability to show up confidently in most situations.
Meg Bucaro is a communication strategist and college instructor who is passionate about empowering clients to perform at their highest level by communicating with more comfort and confidence. She is especially passionate about positioning women for success by teaching them powerful communication behaviors. For more information on how to attract, retain and develop female talent, schedule a chat with Meg. https://megbucaro.com/contact/
(1) If the confidence gap is interesting to you, I suggest the book, The Confidence Code, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
(2) If Power Posing is interesting to you, click here for a touch on a long history of its journey: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2018/04/03/power-posing-is-back-amy-cuddy-successfully-refutes-criticism/?sh=1d6791f33b8e