I have a business in communications. This means that I work with clients from a variety of backgrounds; clients who are twice and three times my age and have been running their business (or multiple businesses) for a number of years. I frequently work in the tech sector, surrounded by people who have made a name for themselves, people who could fill up pages with a single google search.
The other week, a friend asked me how l keep my cool around these business people. He said he would be intimidated as a young person, stumble over his words, and not feel as if he belonged. I thought about this and realized that I haven’t felt that way in years. In fact, the way I interact with these professionals is in a buddy-buddy manner. I joke around with them, make fun of their fast cars, their constant business trips and lunch outings. It’s all in good fun and they do it back to me. They’re just people, entrepreneurs with a passion, and a drive to make something of themselves. Like me.
So I sat down to think about how I got here, how I developed my confidence to daily feel like a valuable part of my community and feel comfortable in my interactions with business leaders.
Below are some of my tips on how to act naturally confident, even if you’re actually freaking out on the inside. Realize that even though you’ll notice a difference the first time you try these techniques, at the end of the day it will take practice before it comes to you naturally.
“Faking it till you make it” will only work if you’ve been able to identify what is holding you back. Sit down and take note of what you’re so insecure about, what makes you shaky in the legs, and what thoughts run through your mind when you’re in an awkward situation.
Ask yourself: What makes me unique? What sets me apart from the person I’m going to converse with? This is not to say that you’re more special than others and that you’re therefore better. This exercise allows you to stop for a moment and focus on what makes you strong, what makes you valuable, and how you can temporarily leverage this to your advantage by making you feel like you belong in the room with top-notch leaders.
I don’t go around thinking that I’m more special than others but in the past when I’ve been in the position where I’m listening to someone of high influence tell me all about how amazing their life is and not once asking me about mine, I have to pull some strength from my inner core. I remind myself that I’m just as valuable as they are, that I’ve had opportunities that they may not have experienced, and that even if they’re older, smarter, and have more money, it doesn’t make me smaller.
So prepare for these situations. Prepare to reach inside your core and rely on that reserve to keep you grounded and to keep you from blurting out the experiences you’ve had in order to prove your worth. You know your worth, and that underlying knowledge will come across to others without you having to verbalize it.
2. DRESS UP
It’s a proven fact that if you dress the part you’re going for, you trick your brain into being more productive and adaptive to your surroundings. In fact, in a 2012 study at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, researches noticed that wearing clothing associated with positive qualities helped boost the wearer’s performance.
Look around at the people in your career field who you’re wanting to emulate. What are they wearing? How are they wearing it? “Dressing the part” not only helps you feel the part, it also affects how others perceive you. People make snap judgments and when you’re dressing for the job you want, for the lifestyle you’re working towards, people are going to react and engage with you accordingly.
But be careful with how extravagant you get. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that
“People who tried to prove their worth to others were more likely to dwell on their shortcomings. Ambitious professionals who wore luxury clothing in an effort to appear successful and MBA students who wore Rolex watches to increase their self-worth just ended up feeling like bigger failures. Even worse, their attempts to project an image of success impaired their self-control. They struggled to resist temptation when they tried to prove that they were successful. Putting so much effort into faking it used up their mental resources and interfered with their ability to make good choices.” Psychology Today
It’s a fine line like most areas in life and as long as you practice keeping a balance, you’ll be just fine. Think about going for brand names like Calvin Klein, Vera Moda, and Tommy Hilfiger. Even if you get them from the thrift shop, the message you’re subtly conveying is that you’re able to afford them and that you’re of a certain status. Stay away from brands like Gucci and Prada; they’re too much and you’ll find that people are actually intimidated by these brands or will view you as a tad showy.
Getting a higher end watch was something special for me but I knew that I couldn’t afford the one I wanted just yet. So I found clean, simply designed watches online that looked really nice and wore those until I had saved up enough money to purchase the watch I had always wanted. Funny thing about this though? I had more compliments on my 20 dollar watch than the expensive one.
3. ACT IT OUT
Something that helps a lot of young professionals is to create an alter ego (AE). You may be thinking an alter ego sounds odd and a bit much, and although I agree that it’s not the most conventional way to get over confidence issues, it’s actually a proven strategy.
Maybe you’re at the very beginning of your career. You’re in a high-stress job and you’re stretched. You’re putting all of your effort, energy, and brainpower into it, and you find yourself with an employer who focuses on what you can be doing to be better and never praises you. You feel small and have issues with conversing with major clients and employers because you don’t feel as if you match up with their caliber. BUT you need to put yourself out there to stand out from the crowd. In fact, it’s required.
So you simply create an alter ego: another version of yourself who has all the traits and skills you’re working up to. Come up with an amazing background. This may seem silly to you, and hey, that’s okay but there are so many studies proving that this works. At the beginning of my working life, I tried it and it worked so well in boosting my confidence that there was no need to continue it after 4 months.
Please Note: This is for you and only you. You’re not meant to tell people your AE background. It’s purely for you to boost your confidence.
4. POWER POSE
Lastly, and I’m sure you’ve heard about this, is power posing. I was 19 and working as an apprentice hair stylist when I learned this trick and if you haven’t tried it, you’re definitely missing out.
I had come across Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk Your body language may shape who you are. She made the claim that one could change the way they felt and viewed themselves by changing their posture for only 2 minutes. It had to be in a power pose though.
I was willing to try anything at that point. My boss and co-worker were always making jabs and jokes about me and even though they meant it all in good fun, I felt little, under appreciated, and overlooked. So I headed into the bathroom and watched myself in the mirror as I struck a power pose for 2 minutes. To my surprise, it actually helped! I chose to sneak off to the bathroom daily to do my power poses until I began to find that my entire demeanour changed. I found I was speaking up for myself and subconsciously doing the power poses while conversing with my co-worker and employer.
Power poses changed my life and although I don’t need to do them on a regular basis anymore, I’ll still strike a quick pose to amp me up when I have a big meeting or large networking event.
So remember that these will take time and practice and what you’re feeling is normal. As long as you make the effort to work on this, you’re going to do great!