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How to Find Your Inner Cary Grant

Tips from a counterintelligence Jedi of gestures

Body language didn't used to get much respect. Lynne Davidson, Ph.D., a professor of business and organizational behavior at New York University, quips about an incident in the mid-1970s when she was teaching social psychology at another institution. "I submitted a description for a course called Body Language and it was turned down because it was considered too trite and not academic enough," she says. Without changing as much as a comma in the science-based course description, Davidson, who studied with masters in the field including Albert Scheflen, MD, got the course accepted by renaming it Kinesics and Symbolic Interactionism.

Potato, potahto. Fast forwarding four decades, now that the importance of body language is more widely accepted, let's look at how you can project confidence nonverbally. Joe Navarro, author of Louder Than Words and other books on nonverbal intelligence, says, "As a former FBI agent and police officer, I had to act un-scared even though at times I was scared. I had to act sure of myself, even though many times I was confronted with things that were destabilizing. I had to act the part because that is what is required."

The operative word is act. Feeling confident can take years. Acting confident, which is important in most business interactions, doesn't have to take long to learn. Are there any special considerations if you're an introvert? "We know from the research that introverts tend to be less outgoing," says Navarro, who describes himself as an introvert in the manner of the late talk-show host Johnny Carson. Navarro says he "really, really prefers to be alone or only in small groups." He likes to read, walk, and kayak solo, and he's not a big partygoer. However, Navarro adds, "As needed, we perform what we have to do to accomplish our job or mission."

So how do you appear confident even if you're low key by nature? "Look at Secret Service agents," says Navarro. "They exude confidence while being very demure. You don't have to gesticulate a lot or act out to be noticed or to lead. You do have to be visible, you do have to have posture, you do have to have situational awareness. But all of these things can be adopted and perfected."

How did Navarro learn to project his sense of confidence? "When I was young I looked at people like Cary Grant and I adopted behaviors from him that I thought would be useful." He continues, "I know a lot of people who think the nonverbals of Colin Powell are exceptional - they are. Here is a man who is very soft spoken and yet nonverbally he commands respect, as I noted in Louder Than Words. This is all based on his dress, grooming, and bearing."

What can you do to convey confidence nonverbally? Drawing on insights from Davidson and Navarro, as well as my own work coaching clients to improve their presentation skills and job interview skills, follow these ten tips - with special insights for introverts.

1. Rest up, prepare, and practice. This mantra can come in handy for anyone. However, introverts benefit by resting up during their quiet time to refuel their social energy. Preparation and practice are essential for introverts because we are less inclined than extroverts* to think on our feet. Also, we're not multi-taskers by nature. So the better we prepare for job interviews, negotiations, presentations, and other meetings, the more likely we'll come across as confident.

2. Make a positive first impression.

As I shared in my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®, a study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology states: "Decades of research in social psychology illustrate the surprising power of first impressions. From contexts as diverse as evaluating classroom teachers, selecting job applicants, or predicting the outcomes of court cases, human judgments made on the basis of a ‘thin slice' of observational data can be highly predictive of subsequent evaluations. Here's why this is particularly important for introverts: we don't make fast friends. Instead, we take our time to build relationships over time. That's fine. But don't forget how you come across - from head to toe - the moment you walk through the door.

2. Make a positive first impression.

3. Keep your cool. "Great leaders don't get agitated," says Navarro. "They don't yell and scream and they don't throw fits." Instead, he adds, "They try to conceal emotions, they don't belittle others in public, they are cool and calm. And all of these things can be learned and modeled and actually fit quite nicely with being introverted. But to lead you must be seen."

4. Listen attentively. Introverts spend more time listening than talking. Use the information you glean to your advantage. You'll come across as more informed and more confident. Ask questions to learn more.

5. Stand up. "You're sitting at your desk and a demanding person enters your office. What do you do?" I ask Davidson. "Stand up immediately," she replies. That puts you on equal footing.

6. Command your space. "When we are confident and comfortable, we spread out," says Navarro in his book, What Every Body is Saying. Davidson offers an example: "You can gesture by extending your forearms."

7. Stand with your feet apart. Davidson recommends a wide stance with one foot forward pointing in a direction to suggest "some dynamic motion," she says. Navarro's writing is a treasure trove of information on the language of the feet and legs (and on up!). He goes into depth about this in his popular book about poker tells, Phil Hellmuth Presents Read ‘Em and Reap. In fact, Navarro believes that feet are the most honest part of the body because, as he says in the book, "the behavior is a limbic brain response that has been hardwired into our nervous system during an evolutionary period that spans millions of years."

8. Interject.

Boisterous meetings and networking events can be especially challenging for introverts. How can you project confidence? Interject. Lean forward, raise a finger, make eye contact with someone who is speaking, say her or his name, smile, and just jump in. You may not like to interrupt anymore than you like to be interrupted. However, I can tell you from my days on Wall Street, if you don't interject, you can appear worse than under-confident - you'll become invisible.

8. Interject.

9. Modulate your voice. The biggest misstep I've seen on job interviews is candidates show their nervousness by speaking in a monotone. Relax your voice and practice "punching" key words. You'll sound more compelling and you'll come across as more confident.

10. Avoid verbal filler. "Speech hesitations are not the same as pauses," says Navarro in Louder Than Words. Avoid punctuating your speech with um, er, you know, like, and other filler, which makes you sound less than confident. If you need extra time to compose your thoughts - something common for introverts - it's fine to buy a little time by saying, "Let me think about that for a moment" or "That's a compelling question. I'll get back to you on that." Avoid apologizing for not having a great answer at your fingertips; instead say what you can offer.

That's your starter toolkit. Other techniques for projecting confidence abound, including making effective and culturally appropriate use of eye contact, mirroring your conversation partners, and dressing to the nines. Can't get enough of learning about communicating without words? Check out the Fox TV series Lie to Me, which is based on the vast work of Paul Ekman, Ph.D., a psychologist and trailblazer in the study of emotions and facial expressions. Also, see Malcolm Gladwell's story, "The Naked Face," in The New Yorker. Need an RSS feed of this stuff so you don't miss a beat (or a grimace!)? Check out Navarro's "Spycatcher" blog for Psychology Today where you'll learn to further sharpen your nonverbal intelligence.

*Also spelled "extraverts" by Carl Jung and the communities of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and other personality assessments such as the Five Factor Model.

Excerpt from Nancy Ancowitz, Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, McGraw-Hill, 2010.

Jared R. Curhan and Alex Pentland, "Thin Slices of Negotiation: Predicting Outcomes from Conversational Dynamics within the First 5 Minutes," Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 92, no. 3, 2007, p. 802.

Update made to one of Davidson's quotes after this story was published.

© Copyright 2011 Nancy Ancowitz

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