Do you ever find yourself at a bar, standing around alone wishing you could approach that cute girl?
Or maybe you're at a networking event and you really want to speak to a VIP, but then you just talk yourself out of it.
You think, what's the point?
It won't go well.
I'm not good enough.
We’ve all been there.
Our nerves get the best of us, our confidence takes a shot and we just can’t seem to muster up what we need to make connections we really want to make.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
As a communication coach, I’ve learned that your confidence and social skills are highly intertwined.
Think about it – doesn’t it feel good when you make someone laugh or you approach a stranger and have an awesome conversation?
Conversely, doesn’t it feel crappy when you’re bullied or feel left out? When that happens you tend to take less “social risks,” fear builds up because you don’t want to feel that way again. Being vulnerable is scary and when you’re conditioned to avoid it, your confidence suffers.
Today I'm going to share six actionable tips that you can use to build your confidence and begin approaching people to have successful conversations.
Building your Confidence
Approaching people who you find intriguing can be extremely intimidating.
You begin thinking about all the ways it could go wrong. The girl may reject you, the VIP may not think you’re worth his time, that coworker you pass in the hallway may not smile back. Taking that first step takes a leap of faith and confidence.
Here are three ways to boost your confidence before approaching someone you may find intimidating.
Tip #1 To Increase Confidence – Adopt Power Poses
In one of my favorite TED Talks, Amy Cuddy a leading Harvard social psychologist, studied how physiology can affect your confidence. Her results were astounding.
Her team had 42 male and female subjects assume low and high power poses.
After they posed for two minutes they took saliva samples of the subjects.
Those who held high power poses (prideful, relaxed, taking up space like putting their feet on the desk) showed lower levels of cortisol and increased testosterone levels, making people feel more confident, more willing to take risks and less stressed.
The above illustration shows 5 poses done from the study that you can emulate when you need a confidence boost!
High power poses consist of simple poses where you're taking up space or feeling relaxed or victorious.
You can stand with your arms in the air as if you just completed a marathon and crossed the finish line or you may be relaxed with your feet on a desk and your body relaxed.
Another option is to stand proud like Superman with your feed wide apart and your hands on your hips. If you want a more powerful pose, you can lean forward with your hands on a prop like a table.
Use these poses whenever you need a confidence boost. If you don't want to be obvious about it, simply go to the bathroom and stand like Superman (with your hands on your hips for 2 minutes). That's it!
Take advantage of your physiology to change your inner-psychology and confidence.
Tip #2 To Increase Confidence – Practice Visualization
You may think this is cheesy, but top athletes and performers use visualization as a way to win Olympic events and perform at peak levels.
Visualizing in vivid detail is a great way to build motivation towards doing something you may find intimidating because you activate the same sensory and motor parts of the brain that are involved with the action you’re visualizing.
This means that when you’re visualizing you're activating the parts of the brain as if you were actually doing what you want to do.
Isn’t that fascinating?!
In a groundbreaking experiment piano players were divided in two groups. One group was told to physically practice, while the other was told to “mentally” practice by visualizing playing the piano.
In both groups, the same physical changes in the brain were found in the motor cortex and after three days their accuracy was exactly the same regardless of how they practiced.
That’s the strength of visualization, it’s a way to activate the areas in your brain as if you were actually performing the action itself.
Tip #3 To Increase Confidence – Mental Double Checks
When you feel the urge to approach someone you may hear that inner-critic in your head that speaks up and tells you things about how you're not good enough or how the interaction will go wrong.
In order to convey confidence, you're going to have to control what is going on in your head. What goes on in your head is directly reflected in your verbal and nonverbal cues.
If you're distracted or nervous, you will find yourself fidgeting or using a lot of “uhs” and “ums” when speaking.
In order to stay mindful and present, I recommend a practice called the “mental double check.” It's something I try to do hourly each day or every few minutes if I'm speaking with someone.
Mental double checks are simply taking a moment to observe what is going on in your mind.
You'd be surprised about what you'll realize when you start mentally double checking yourself.
You may find that that inner-voice is beating yourself up over little things or causing self-doubt. Remember, the stories and narratives you tell yourself become who you are. In order to build your confidence, you have to master your story by gaining control over that inner-voice.
This is not a quick fix, building your confidence takes time, energy and effort but it’s important to take the first step and begin identifying the types of stories you’re telling yourself.
If you’re telling yourself you’re not good enough, you’ll convince yourself of this and never become the best version of the person you can be.
So put a reminder on your phone for once every few hours to start off as a reminder to observe what is going on in your mind. Are you presently focused on something important or is your mind adrift?
You can also make it a practice to do mental double checks when you’re speaking to people. It's a great way to make sure you're fully engaged with the person you're speaking with which is key to communication.
If you double check yourself and realize that your mind has wandered, don't beat yourself up about it. Just have a specific “Plan B” for this scenario.
You may want to take a few deep breaths to get back into the moment or you may want to begin visualizing what the other person is talking about, imagining their story in your mind to feel engaged again.
The point is that in order to be “in control” of your mind it’s important to stay present. Staying present means being in the moment versus ruminating about the laundry you have to do when you get home or all the negative self-talk about how the person you’re speaking with may be judging you.
First Impressions Matter
Now that we’ve covered systematic ways to start boosting your confidence, the next three tips cover how to make the approach.
The most important takeaway here is that first impressions matter.
Think about it, have you ever met someone and immediately formed a strong opinion about them? Snap judgements are made extremely quickly – studies have shown that these opinions form in one-tenth of a second.
Of all the characteristics we use to judge people, researchers found that attractiveness and trustworthiness are the characteristics we judge the quickest.
Once you decide whether or not you like someone, it's pretty hard to change your mind. Why?
Well, humans are lazy and after forming that opinion, there's a ton of cognitive processing (aka brain power) involved in figuring out whether your snap judgements are accurate or not.
Instead, confirmation bias gets the best of you so that you seek information that confirms what you already think about someone and that strengthens the initial judgement. As you can see, it becomes a vicious cycle.
Now that you understand the science behind first impressions, let’s talk about the most effective ways to make the impression that you want to make.
Tip #4 To Increase Confidence – Small Talk Works
As a communication coach, I always hear people complain about how small talk sucks, but guess what guys? It's super important. Here's why.
When people make first impressions, they're largely looking for two main characteristics that account for 80-90% of their impressions and that is trustworthiness and confidence. But trustworthiness is the most important piece.
The mistake that most men make is that they're so obsessed with showing power and confidence that they forget about the importance of trustworthiness.
Amy Cuddy, the Harvard social psychologist recommends using small talk to build trust by genuinely trying to learn about someone else, it conveys trust and warmth.
Where do you start?
Find out what the person you're speaking to is interested in and what their passions are. Giving other people the chance to speak first and “have the floor” establishes trust and allows them to feel comfortable.
Here are some questions you can ask:
- What is your passion?
- What do you like to do when you’re not working?
- If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
- Where are you from?
Notice how these questions are open-ended. They're the types of questions that rely on the other person to provide some depth rather than simply saying “yes” or “no.”
The other thing to notice is that the questions are about them, making them the center of the conversation. If you're looking for a framework on asking people good questions, check out this post.
Tip #5 To Increase Confidence – Appearance Matters
Since you're an RMRS reader, you know the importance of dressing well.
Research has shown that clothing is another key factor when it comes to making first impressions.
If you're looking for styling tips, there are so many awesome articles here to help.
But the most important thing to be aware of is your audience. How are people going to dress?
You don’t want to be standing out like a sore thumb.
If you’re going to an event ask if there’s a dress code. If you’re invited to a party you can also ask the host what type of attire the guests will be wearing if you’re unsure.
Tip #6 To Increase Confidence – Use your Eyes
Since your goal is to make an effective first impressions that conveys trust, one of the best ways to show trust is to use eye contact.
It helps show someone that you're present and paying attention, thus making them feel important. Don't you hate when you're talking to someone and they're glancing around the room or checking their phone?
Studies show that adults make eye contact between 30-60% of the time, but people should be making eye contact 60-70% of the time to create a sense of emotional connection which is what you're looking for.
Start practicing your eye contact. If you don't feel comfortable doing it, here are a few tips:
- Lock both of your eyes on one eye of the other person if you feel uncomfortable having a direct gaze at both of their eyes
- If you're still uncomfortable making direct eye contact you can focus on one eyebrow of the other person, since it's close enough to their eyes they'll assume you're looking in their eyes even though you aren't
- Make eye contact a habit. You can do this by practicing making eye contact for a few seconds with strangers. The point is to make it a habit so it becomes automatic.
Your social skills and confidence are intertwined, by actively working on improving these aspects of your life, you'll find yourself feeling naturally confident in social situations.
In order to improve your confidence, use the strategies we discussed like visualization, power poses and becoming aware of what is going on in your mind.
When it comes to approaching people, remember that first impressions matter. The goal of approaching people is to make them feel comfortable and important. You can do this by using small talk, making sure you look presentable and maintaining eye contact.
Want More? Ready To Take Action?
This is a guest post by communication coach Katrina Razavi, founder of CommunicationforNerds.com. Join her free video mini-course called: How to Crush your Inner Critic & Have Charismatic Conversations.
Katrina helps people who struggle with social anxiety and social confidence by sharing strategies using change psychology, confidence building and habit transformation.