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How to Act Confident

... even if you don't necessarily feel confident.

Key points

  • Acting confident can be hugely beneficial, allowing someone to gain other people's support and respect.
  • Contrary to popular belief, it's not necessary to to feel confident in order to be perceived as confident.
  • Confidence can be conveyed through modifiable factors such as body posture and speech.

Acting confident is often of great importance in a world that values confidence—but actually feeling confident is less so. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to feel confident to be perceived as such. This is because others can't necessarily know how you feel—but they will make assumptions based on how you act.

Although acting confident comes with several important benefits—such as greater credibility and higher social standing—feeling confident can actually have drawbacks. One example is what's known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, or the tendency for some people with low ability to overestimate their ability for complex tasks. Feeling confident, in other words, can lead us to mistakenly believe that we are more capable than we are, preventing us from growing or evolving in our various roles. People who consider themselves “experts” change their minds less often, even when faced with contradictory evidence.

Thus, feeling confident may not always be an aspirational goal, as it can make us vulnerable to cognitive biases. What's more, there can be a disconnect between actual competence and confidence. Many women and BIPOC people, for example, tend to underestimate their competence, leading them to present themselves in less confident ways.

The Benefits of Acting Confident

Being perceived as confident, however, is important because it can elevate one’s social standing. And confidence inspires confidence: People are likely to believe you and follow your lead if you confidently present yourself. People think more negatively of politicians or other leaders who do not appear confident.

There are several ways that people can convey confidence to others which, in turn, is likely to increase their confidence in themselves. For people who struggle with imposter syndrome, it is important to remember that one does not need to eliminate or change these feelings—as that may take time—before they can begin to present themselves in confident ways. Here are two simple things you can work on today to present yourself more confidently for the new year.

Stand confidently

There is some research showing that bodily movements can affect various emotional states, though some elements of the findings have been called into question. In one well-known example, researcher Amy Cuddy and colleagues identified a stance known as a “power pose.” High-power poses are poses in which a person takes up more of their physical space while keeping their limbs open; low-power poses do the opposite.

According to Cuddy’s widely-publicized research, the type of bodily poses that convey power are ones that are expansive and open. Although later researchers were not able to replicate the findings, Cuddy has argued that assuming these poses can help one feel more powerful, which in turn can go a long way in helping one feel confident.

Because the research behind "power poses" remains widely debated, it may be more effective to think about simply holding one’s posture in ways that continuously elicit feelings of confidence. Good posture, at the very least, could positively affect how you feel, while also signaling confidence to others.

Talk confidently

Your speech and tone can convey a lot of meaning for others. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t practice the vocal patterns and traits which can lead to a more confident presentation. Studies have shown that people tend to attribute more authority and assertiveness to people with a lower tone of voice. This may be an evolutionary effect, as low tone may have historically been associated with bigger bodies.

Research has also found that people who are confident tend to talk faster, as well as louder. When attempting to convey confidence, it's likely that projecting one’s voice and speaking at a faster clip is more advantageous than being soft-spoken and hesitant. The way we speak and communicate tends to be a deep-seated habit that can be difficult to alter. Nonetheless, by being aware of your voice, you can work on projecting as well as speaking assertively and decisively.

People often aspire to feel more confident, believing that feelings must come before behavior. However, it is often a change in behavior that leads to a change in how we feel.

More from Sopagna Eap-Braje Ph.D.
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