Your boss asks you to plan an off-site staff meeting, a task you’ve never had to do before. You can reply one of two ways: You can say, “No problem. I’m on it,” and get busy, or you can whisper, “I have no idea how to do that,” and fret over your ignorance. Chances are, you’d pick option one. (Good choice.)
Congratulations, you’ve just employed the “fake it ’til you make it” strategy! Not sure what to do in any given situation? Fake your self-confidence and pretend you know how to proceed, all the while figuring it out as you go. You may feel like a charlatan, but it turns out there’s something very real about the benefits of faking it.
Not only will others believe in you—you may even believe in you. “Even if we don’t feel confident, by practicing confident behaviors, eventually thoughts and feelings about our abilities become more confident in nature,” says Kimber Shelton, a Dallas-based psychologist.
Learning how to build confidence in the workplace doesn’t happen overnight, and even top executives struggle with low self-esteem—but don’t let it sideline you. Check out the following tips on how best to fake it ’til you make it. (Don’t worry: Your secret’s safe with us.)
Practice the right posture
Remember when your teachers told you to sit up straight? Well it’s time to start heeding their advice, especially as it relates to body language.
Shrinking and slouching doesn’t inspire confidence, and neither does getting too comfortable by kicking back with your feet on the table, Errey says. By making your body assume a confident posture, your mind will follow suit. “You don’t have to go around with your head held high and your hands on your hips all the time,” he says. “A natural posture that stretches your spine will not only feel good, but will present well, too.”
Mind your eye contact
Your eyes are a dead giveaway as to whether or not you’re feeling secure in a situation. Looking someone in the eyes means you’re engaged; averting your eyes means you’re, well, averting the situation.
The goal is to comfortably look people in the eye without leaving them feeling like you’re staring them down. “What eye contact can do, if you do it naturally, is humanize you and the person you’re talking with,” which puts you both at ease, says Steve Errey, a London-based confidence coach.
Pay special attention to your use of eye contact during hellos and good-byes; it’s also important to look people in the eyes throughout the conversation to show that you’re still present and listening.
Cultivate an optimistic attitude
When faced with a challenge, many people confront it with an “I have to do this” mindset, says Scott Eblin, a Santa Monica, California–based executive coach, speaker and author of Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative.
“Try reframing those situations as ‘I get to do this,’ rather than ‘I have to do this,’” he says. “I get to share my expertise with new people. I get to learn something new. I get to stretch myself in ways that will help me grow. It’s a simple shift from ‘have to’ to ‘get to’ that can make a ton of difference in your attitude and confidence level.”
Focus on learning over winning
The way to eradicate the “faking it” part is by making it. School yourself so that you’re forced to fake it less often. Take notes at meetings, read industry blogs and the latest studies in your field, sign up for newsletters, read up on leaders in your field. Make it a goal to learn a little bit every day, and your confidence will increase along with your knowledge bank.
“Learning not only gives your confidence a workout through the stretch and discomfort inherent in doing something you don’t already know,” Errey says, “but it also shows others that you accept that you don’t already know it all and that you’re willing and happy to grow.”
Remind yourself of all that you’re good at
It’s all too easy to dwell on all the things you don’t know—but that’s a guaranteed confidence killer. Counter those negative thoughts through positive self-affirmations. Make it a point to remember that you do have a wealth of experience, skills, talents and strengths that you can draw on, Errey says.
Write short messages about your strengths, then read those messages throughout the day, particularly when you face a challenge, Shelton says. “The more we reinforce our strengths,” she says, “the more confident we will feel over time.”