Several years ago, when I was still immersed in the dating world and going out to bars and whatnot, my best friend said to me, “You always exude confidence and people just gravitate to you. I don’t know how you do that.” My response at the time was something along the lines of, “I dunno, you just walk in there like you f*cking own the place.” Since then, I’ve married Mr. SaaSyBroad, and that same confidence has served me well in business. It occurs to me that, just like my wing(wo)man at the bar, confidence does not come instinctively to everyone, especially women. For all you ladies working in technology, I’m gonna break down for you exactly how to give off that effortless, easy-breezy vibe.
We all know confidence matters in business (and in dating too, let’s be real). But why, specifically, is it important to appear confident as a professional woman?
- Your male peers already do this, most without even realizing it. You should, too.
- Confidence = Trust. Be confident and people magically trust you to do things, even if you aren’t sure you can do them.
- Stand out from the crowd. Sad to say that confident professional women are something of an anomaly, especially if they are younger.
Take up space
It finally dawned on me that I do this – I take up space. You’ve heard of “manspreading” before, right? This isn’t quite the same thing, but it’s close. When I sit on a couch, I’m no dainty flower, perched on the edge of the seat, ankles crossed, hands in my lap. I tend to sit all the way back in the seat, legs crossed (or not!), with at least one arm flung up across the back cushions. Sound familiar? One could say that I sit “like a man”. But what is the effect of this? What is the message I’m sending? I belong here. I own this space.
Sure, if someone else wants to sit on the couch with me, I will gladly move. But do you see what that does to the power dynamic in the room? I have established ownership of the space and if someone approaches to sit, I magnanimously “give” some of that space back. The effect is subtle but profound.
Make room for yourself
Think back to the last time you attended a meeting where there weren’t enough seats for all the attendees. When you walked into the room, what did you do? If they know in advance that the room will be packed, many people will position themselves standing along a wall at the back., even if there are open seats at the table. Not me. If there is a seat at the table, I take it and you should, too. If there are no seats at the table, I go get a chair from another conference room and position it as close to the action as I can without blocking others.
I can hear you thinking, “That’s so rude! I would always allow others to sit if they want! I don’t mind standing.” Here’s the thing – Do you see any of the C-suite standing along the wall? No, you don’t. They know instinctively that they have earned a place at the table (literally). By taking your place at the table alongside them, you are physically and psychologically positioning yourself among the leaders of your organization.
Have someplace to go, even if you don’t
When I was at a school dance in the 7th grade, I observed an interesting difference between the more popular girls and the not-so-popular girls: The popular girls were always on the move, while the rest were just standing around, being wallflowers. The popular girls would be asked to dance pretty regularly, way more than the girls lining the walls, looking hopeful. Based on this observation, I came up with a plan* to appear more popular and (hopefully) get asked to dance.
I hauled my friend Melissa out of her seat and said, “Come on, let’s go!” When she asked where we were going I said, “Nowhere. But if anyone is going to ask us to dance, we have to look like we have someplace to be!” And with that, we proceeded to stride purposefully across the dimly-lit cafeteria, first to the bathroom, then to the drink table, and finally just back and forth across the dance floor periodically, weaving our way among the sweaty kids doing the Running Man**. It didn’t matter where we went, as long as we looked like we had someplace to go.
This early psychological experiment was not particularly successful in getting us asked to dance, but the premise was sound. In fact, it’s something I still do today. When I walk into a crowded cocktail hour at a professional conference, I keep that early experiment in mind. I keep my head up, make eye contact with people in the room, and walk purposefully into the fray. Typically, I make a beeline for either the bar or the ladies room. This allows me to get the lay of the land and look like I have someplace to be. I don’t sit on the sidelines or stand around, looking uncertain. When my fellow conference-goers see me, they see a confident woman who knows what she’s doing…and where she’s going.
Putting it all together
Have you figured out my secret yet? The secret is that making space for myself, taking up space, and having someplace to go all allow me to look confident, even when I am not feeling that way. You don’t have to feel like the smartest, most competent professional in the room. You just need to act like you are. And it’s okay to start small. Tomorrow, when heading to your next meeting, walk in there like you f*cking own the place.