Most women believe that confidence is something you can acquire with time and training, that it’s not something you have to be born with. Still, most women can also quickly call to mind those frustrating moments when someone defeated their confidence, like a critical supervisor or a leader who micromanages. Nothing deflates your efficacy quite like the overpowering presence of someone hovering, pointing out what’s wrong, and calling out your errors. On the flipside, many women face the opposite problem, and they approach situations with a heightened sense of confidence that can translate as arrogance. Sometimes, we need to tone it down a bit.
In her book, How Women Decide: What’s True, What’s Not, and What Strategies Spark the Best Choices, Therese Huston discusses the Confidence Advantage women have. Here are Therese’s tips for turning up – or toning down – the confidence dial in tricky situations.
Lower the pitch of your voice. You don’t need to whisper, because you still want people to hear you, but lowering the pitch of your voice can go a long way a greater sense of power and confidence. Within five minutes of starting to speak in a lower tone, people experience a boost in their confidence and their problem-solving abilities. Sometimes lowering your pitch can be just the confidence boost you need, and the effects are contagious. People tend to prefer listening to lower voices. Huston’s research revealed that people expect women with higher voices to be sexier and more physically attractive, but they expect women with lower voices to make better leaders and be more competent and trustworthy. When it comes to leadership, people prefer competence over sexiness, so lower your voice and own the room.
Change your posture. Huston invites you to take a quick inventory of how you’re sitting right now. “Are your arms resting on your body? Is your hand touching your face or your neck? Are your legs crossed demurely at the ankles or perhaps even tucked beneath you? Although I have to admit that all of these sound comfortable and natural to me, these would also be called low-power poses.” She explains that in a low-power pose, your body takes up less space and your arms and legs are close to your body. In contrast, a high-power pose literally takes up more space, spreads out, and seems to say, “I’m here, and I’m in charge.” Lean back, put your hands behind your head, elbows out. Better yet, stand up, place your hands squarely on your hips, with your feet about eighteen inches apart. Claim the stance of Wonder Woman, and you’ll actually begin to feel more confident, powerful and in charge.
But what happens if you’re on the other side of the spectrum, and your confidence isn’t hitting the mark? In the name of a well-balanced approach, Huston recommends strategies for the overconfident girl as well.
Choose a low-power pose. While high-power poses increase confidence, what do low-power poses do? You guessed it: they lower confidence. Draw in your arms and legs and take up less space. Put your hands in your lap or on your arms, like you were warming yourself if you’re cold. Essentially, make yourself smaller. Within a few minutes, you’ll probably feel less like taking a risk, and the people around you may feel more confident to lead.
Picture the failure. In what she calls a “premortem,” you envision the failure of the project you’re about to begin. You imagine yourself somewhere down the road, a few months or years from now, and you creatively imagine that you’ve failed miserably. It sounds morbid, but that’s kind of the whole point. Imagine the failure, and then write down the reasons it failed. Huston says, “When you ask what went wrong, you’re replacing the success story in your head with a failure story, which dials down your confidence.” (I should say so!) It may be dark, but it sure is practical, and a premortem is far more effective than a list of pros and cons. When you picture your own failure, you get a healthy dose of humility, which is sometimes just what a project needs
Ultimately, Huston invites women to think of confidence as a dial, something you can turn up or down. Keep your confidence in check and turned down when you’re making a decision, weighing your options, and when you need to stay open-minded to more information. Dial up your confidence when you’ve already made a decision, when the path in front of you involves getting others on board, engaged and ready to follow you.