Five Body Language Techniques for the Shy

Being naturally shy can make it a challenge to get to know others. What does body language have to do with helping shy people improve their interaction with others? It is normal for people to “read” the openness of others. Unfortunately, for those of us who are deep thinkers, we can come off as being “stuck up” or unapproachable, but what we’re really thinking is:

“Are they waiting for someone else? Will they think I’m annoying? What if I say something stupid? What if they ignore me when I speak? Are they irritated about something? What is wrong with me that they are pretending I’m not here?”

Even though our preference in social situations may be to observe and analyze, when we want to make friends or impress a potential employer, we must step out of our comfort zone.

What do people look for when initially deciding who appears interesting enough to strike up a conversation with? A large portion of what people use to make this determination is through body language. While a person’s body language does not say everything about a person, there are some cues that we can take away.

I know for me, I’m attracted to open and friendly body language. When someone displays an open and friendly body language, I feel an increased level of comfort. Unless I feel a level of comfort, I don’t feel safe enough to open a conversation. However, if we never feel safe enough to meet new people, we miss out on discovering amazing people and taking advantage of new opportunities.

As I know that open and friendly body language is important to me, I try to be aware of my own body language. Even though I would prefer to be scrolling through my phone or eavesdropping on other people’s conversations (they shouldn’t talk so loudly), I know that won’t help other people want to get to know me.

Subsequently, I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing the body language signs that people find attractive. While these body language techniques are not natural for a shy person, they can be practiced and improved. Most importantly, these techniques can be used on a date, at a potential job interview, or while interacting at a networking event.

Technique One: Smile

When meeting a new person, I like to smile at them. This presents the image of being open and friendly. However, this doesn’t work when I leave a smile plastered on my face. This comes off as fake and insecure. Instead, we should study the face of the person that we are meeting.

How long should you study their face? This should only take a few seconds. Any longer than a few seconds and the person may become uncomfortable. After studying their face for a few seconds, we should smile. What happens when we do this? The person feels like the smile was just for them.

Technique Two: Eye Contact

Eye contact is important in social interactions. When we spend all our time looking at our phones or staring at the floor, we miss opportunities to get to know people that we might have a lot in common with. On the other hand, it can come off as disturbing if we make too much eye contact. At times, I’m uncomfortable looking someone in the eyes.

For instance, if I’m meeting an elected official or a business CEO, I struggle to look them in the eye. In those instances, I prefer to look at a space above their eyes or at the upper portion of their nose.

Technique Three: Open Arms

Many naturally shy people cross their arms in social interactions. This position brings us a level of comfort. Unfortunately, crossed arms can imply defeat. Instead, we should keep our body’s open to those around us. This body language technique indicates openness to others thoughts and ideas.

Technique Four: Put Up Our Phones

Using a phone as a crutch is not unusual for shy people. To avoid feeling uncomfortable around someone we don’t know, we pull out our phones. As a matter of fact, I did this today at my daughter’s dance class before I realized I was guaranteeing that no one would want to talk to me.

Okay, truth time, I got out my phone in the first place because a week ago, I made a comment to the group and no one responded. Granted, I didn’t look at them before speaking and had been staring at my phone for forty-five minutes. Nonetheless, I was protecting myself by pulling out my phone again. However, I realized that by using my phone as a shield, I was keeping people from getting to know me. I put up my phone and after listening in to their conversation, I looked them in the eye and asked a question. They responded. Once they responded, I shared a story about my daughter and they all laughed.

Technique Five: The Triple Nod

What is the triple nod? As a shy person, we sometimes find it difficult to continue a conversation; especially with a high energy person. Fortunately, there is a great body language technique that we can use in these instances to keep a conversation going. This technique is the triple nod. The triple nod is like an ellipsis in a sentence. It is a cue for the other person to keep talking.

How is it used in a real situation? If we are speaking with someone who is sharing, when they pause, we can look them in the eye and nod our heads three times in a row. This symbolizes that we are engaged and interested in what the person is saying. It is a great way to lengthen a conversation. If the person does not continue, then we pick up the conversation where they left off.

Click here to read the 11 Best Body Language Books Ranked and Reviewed for 2019.

What do you think of my recommendations? Do you think they will make your conversations more comfortable? When you think back to a time you were comfortable striking up a conversation with a new person, were either of you following these techniques? I look forward to hearing your comments below!

21 Tricks to get a Confident Body Language

Confident body language

Have you ever gotten a strong feeling about someone that you just couldn’t explain?

They didn’t say or do anything unusual, but for some reason you just know.

When you feel this way, it’s probably a good idea to “go with your gut.”

Research shows that the actual words you say only make up 7% of what you communicate.  Your tone of voice makes up 38%, and your body language is– wait for it– a whopping 55% of your total communication.1

This proves that, while the way you say something is just as important as what you say, the loudest message is the one you’re sending without any words at all.

If your body language is broadcasting your insecurities, you’ll likely find it difficult to make new friends or land that dream job.

But if your body language is showcasing your confidence, doors will begin to open for you that you never knew existed.

Remember, more than half of what someone is learning about you on a date or at a job interview is being told to them through your body language.  So no matter how much preparation you put into what you’re going to say, it’s of the utmost importance that your body language is echoing the same message.

Luckily, the following four steps will help you obtain the confident body language that will change your social life (and probably your personal and work lives) forever.

1. Confident Appearance

Ever heard the phrase, “Look good, feel good”? It’s more than just a catchy Instagram hashtag.

When you take care of your body and your appearance, you will feel better about yourself for a number of reasons: you will be healthier, happier, and proud of the way you look.  As a result, your body language will be more confident because you’ll actually be more confident.

No matter what the occasion, the most important factor in “looking the part” is good personal hygiene.  Some say cleanliness is next to godliness, but if you ask me, cleanliness is next to confidence.

Showering and brushing your teeth regularly, making sure to wear clean clothes, and combing your hair are all it really takes to prevent that uncomfortable moment when you begin to wonder whether or not you smell bad.

Wearing clothing that is appropriate for both the season and event is another easy way to not only feel confident, but appear confident as well.

2.  Confident Posture

Now that you’ve dressed yourself confidently, the next step is to hold your body with a confident posture.

Although you might expect a confident posture to consist of a ramrod-straight back and arms held to either side, this sort of rigid position actually appears very uptight (think about it: this was the posture expected of medieval kings and queens, and they wanted to look intimidating).

On the other hand, slouching, keeping your head down, and crossing your arms are each a means of making yourself look smaller, which indicates timidity, fear, and insecurity.

A confident posture is the in-between; while it’s true that you should stand up straight, that doesn’t mean to stand uncomfortably straight. If it feels unnatural, it probably looks unnatural too.

Keep your chin up (not in the air, but also not tucked into your collar bone).  Keep your hands loosely by your sides, have one hand (not both) casually tucked into a pocket, or use them to make natural hand gestures as you speak.

The position in which you hold your body indicates a lot about how you’re feeling.  Making minor adjustments can cause you to instantly appear more confident.

3.  Confident Hands and Feet

To be such small parts of your body, your hands and feet send big messages about the state of your self-esteem.

It’s not exactly a mystery why a police officer may ask someone to “keep your hands where I can see them.” Seeing their hands lets them know that the person isn’t holding a weapon or otherwise threatening their safety.

But this doesn’t just apply to law enforcement– it’s human instinct to feel increased trust when someone’s hands are visible. This is part of why we offer our hands to be sniffed by a dog who is unfamiliar with us, or why we hold our hands out when we are pleading with someone.

In the same way, keeping your hands free and visible is a component of confident body language. 

If your hand are shoved deep into your pockets, you will appear uncomfortable and people will be wary of you– if you’re uncomfortable, there’s probably a reason… so maybe they should feel uncomfortable too.

It’s also important to pay attention to the nervous habits you may conduct with your hands.

Many people unwittingly mess with their hair, pick at their fingernails, or fiddle with their clothing or accessories when they get nervous.  You may not realize you’re doing it, but other people will, and your insecurity will become transparent. 

In addition to keeping visible hands and avoiding nervous tics, the way that you walk is another key indicator of your confidence.

If you are shuffling your feet, taking teeny-tiny steps, or being a total weirdo  behaving really oddly by walking on tip-toe, people will think you’re either scared, suspicious, or frighteningly strange (none of which are desirable outcomes).

Taking larger strides and keeping your eyes fixed on your destination, rather than on the floor, indicates that you are confident both in yourself and in what you’re doing and gives you the appearance of walking with purpose.

Finally, the stance that you take when you stop walking is a major contributor to your appearance of confidence.

Earlier I mentioned that hunching your shoulders or tucking your chin makes you appear smaller, and the same is true of a narrow stance.

Taking up more space by standing with feet shoulder-width apart or sitting with your feet planted firmly on the ground is an indicator of confidence.  By doing this, you are showing that you know where you belong and you’re not afraid to be seen or to make yourself comfortable in your space.

Let me be clear– I’m not saying you should stand like a cowboy preparing to draw his pistol for a duel (and if you do stand that way, go ahead and walk around on tip-toe while you’re at it).

However, maintaining a comfortable stance that takes up an appropriate amount of space for your body size will make you appear much more confident than you will if you stand as though you’re in an overly-full elevator.

4.  Confident Eyes

Your eyes are the fourth and final component of developing a more confident body language.

Staring at the ground, your hands, or basically anywhere except the person who’s speaking indicates

  1. You’re guilty of something, or
  2. You’re shy/terrified/insecure

In short, eye contact is key.

Unlike some of the previous points, this is not a new concept.  Quite simply, don’t be afraid to look at people.

If you’re afraid to look at people, it’s probably because you don’t want them to look back. And that, my friends, is the number one sign of insecurity.

So, when you’re in a situation where you need to put on a confident body language, think of the children’s song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”

Just kidding– but do think of your appearance, your posture, and your hands, feet, and eyes.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and the picture people see when they look at you is worth a million.  So make it count.

5. Ways to Convey Confidence Through Body Language

Ever heard the saying “Fake it ’til you make it?”

Nine times out of ten, this phrase is used in reference to the habit of faking confidence.

The amount of confidence you exude can play a large role in the success you experience in your personal life, in your social life, and in your workplace.  And though you may not always feel confident, the ability to act with confidence anyway is a valuable skill to have.

You probably wouldn’t walk into a room and say, “Hey everybody! I’m feeling really confident today!” (And if you would… please don’t).

Rather than annoying your coworkers, you’re likely to find that it’s much more effective (and socially acceptable) to convey confidence through your body language instead.  

Body language is the non-verbal communication of your attitude and thoughts.  Whether you realize it or not, you are always sending a message via your body language, and it doesn’t take an expert to decipher its meaning.

Some of the most obvious examples of body language are things you see all the time. Someone standing with crossed arms, head tilted back, with eyes pointed towards the ceiling, shifting his weight back and forth while tapping one foot is clearly frustrated and impatient.

On the other hand, someone sprawled out on a sofa with her arms above her head and one leg up on a table is obviously comfortable in her environment. Neither of those people would need to explicitly tell you how they’re feeling.  You would be able to tell just by looking at them; they are signaling it with their body language.

For several years, I was a 3rd grade teacher of at-risk children in an extremely impoverished neighborhood (in other words, a pretty stressful work environment). One of the ways that teachers in this district are evaluated is through “drop-in” observations, where the school principal comes by at random to watch a lesson.

Everything the teacher says and does is written down–verbatim–and evaluated according to an extensive rubric.  The results of these observations affect the number of future observations the teacher will receive, as well as how much the teacher will get paid the following school year.

To call this “nerve-racking” is an understatement, and during my first year of teaching I was particularly terrified.  And yet at every post-conference I attended, I was complimented on my “calm and confidence.” This was shocking to me because I didn’t feel calm or confident at the time.  But I used my body language to pretend like I did— and it worked.

The next time I had an observation like this, I didn’t have to fake my confidence quite as much because my actual confidence was much higher.

You too can use your body language to convey confidence using the following 4 tips.

6. Eye Contact

One of the most obvious “tells” of insecurity is the unwillingness to make eye contact. Avoiding eye contact indicates to someone that you are either uncomfortable or have something to hide.

You don’t want to make creepy eye contact either, though– meet the person’s eyes when they are speaking to you or you are speaking to them, and maintain a normal blinking pattern. If the conversation includes multiple people, switch between making eye contact with each of them instead of focusing on one person. Eye contact is the most important characteristic of confident body language. 

7. Posture

Think of some of the most confident people you know.  How do they position themselves? Confident people hold their heads up high and stand up straight, ready to face whatever comes at them.  A posture of confidence is not stiff; it is relaxed and allows for plenty of movement.  Hunching over, keeping your head down, crossing your arms, and folding into yourself are signs of fear, shame, and insecurity.  Take note of how you hold yourself when you are nervous or uncomfortable, and make an effort to stand normally in these situations instead.  It can be helpful to ask close family or friends who have spent a lot of time with you what they notice about your behavior in these situations so that you can be more aware of it in the future.

8. Movement

In addition to having a relaxed, open posture, confident people are comfortable moving around. Make sure you understand the difference between “moving around” and fidgeting– nervous tics such as messing with your hair, pacing, twisting an earring, 0r fiddling with a lanyard or the buttons on your shirt are not indicators of confidence. Stiffness, such as keeping your hands clenched tightly in fists or shoved deep into your pocket, indicates discomfort.

When watching someone giving a speech, it is clear they are nervous if they clutch the podium or their notes and rarely let go. Confident body language includes the use of hand gestures, animated facial expressions, and other natural movements that are appropriate for the situation at hand.

9.  Facial Expressions

For some, facial expressions can be the most difficult aspect of body language to control. It can be easy to reveal exactly what you are thinking and feeling on your face. But with practice, you can learn to maintain facial expressions that exhibit confidence regardless of the situation.

First, confident people smile because they believe in their ability to handle any situation, and their lack of insecurity allows them to enjoy themselves.  When you are nervous or uncomfortable, you smile less frequently, if at all.  Making sure to smile (when appropriate) will give you the appearance of confidence.

Some things a confident person doesn’t do include:

  • Pursing his lips
  • Biting his lip
  • Blinking rapidly or unnaturally
  • Clenching her jaw

Think about which of these things you find yourself doing when feeling nervous and focus on maintaining a neutral facial expression instead, and be sure to smile when appropriate.

The most confident people you know are probably not as confident as they seem.  Most successful people have discovered the truth in the saying “Fake it ’til you make it.” Learning how to use your body language to convey confidence–even when you aren’t feeling it– will allow you to develop actual confidence as you continue to experience success.

10. Common body language mistakes

couple

Often when we feel uncomfortable in social situations, our body language is affected in the following ways:

We might…

  • Cross our arms like we want to protect ourselves
  • Body rock
  • Hunch forward
  • Act like we want to leave the conversation
  • Feel afraid to take up space
  • Sit or stand in a stiff position
  • Start fiddling with our phone

Doing this makes us look nervous and shy. Even more importantly: It makes us feel nervous and shy. That’s right. Like I mentioned in the previous chapter, using a nervous body language is causing you to feel more nervous.

If you physically change your body language, your brain will produce hormones that will indeed make you feel more confident.

An Interesting study

In a study, two groups of people were instructed to make a series of difficult decisions.

One of the groups had been instructed to maintain a confident body language during the decision-making. This group felt more confident with the decisions that they had made compared to the test group.

This experiment proved that you actually become a more confident person simply by using a confident body language.

11. How to get an open and outgoing body language

Here’s a complete list of mistakes related to body language and examples on how socially skilled people do it differently. Before we start off, two things:

IMPORTANT:

1. Don’t be overwhelmed by this list – you don’t need to memorize it
Instead, pay attention to if there’s anything you can adjust when it comes to your body language and keep that in the back of your head.

2. If you forget to follow some of the advice on this list, no worries
This is for you to get an overview and see the big picture to help you to get rid of bad habits. It’s your overall appearance that matters. Rather be relaxed and make mistakes than being stiff and afraid of making mistakes.

12. Crossing your arms

People who cross their arms come off as nervous or skeptical. Avoid doing this when you’re talking to someone. Also avoid to “protect your belly” by holding a hand in front of it or holding something you carry in front of it. That’s a clear sign of being uncomfortable

What to do instead:

Let your arms hang relaxed along with your sides.

If you’re holding a glass or a phone or a bag, hold it at waist level with relaxed arms along your sides.

A great habit is to simply put your thumbs in your pockets and let your fingers point downward when you’re talking to someone. That will create a natural, relaxed look.

13. Body rocking

Reporters who are out on the field are taught in journalism class to “anchor” themselves in the ground in front of the camera to convey more confidence and to avoid moving around too much.

If you feel uncertain of where to stand and it feels like everyone is looking at you, throw a mental anchor right where you are and stand still on the spot with your feet at shoulder width.

It can be comforting to know that when you don’t know where to go or what to do, instead of flinching around, just encamp where you currently stand until you know where you’re going next. That will make you look confident and relaxed.

14. Hunching forward

As proved in studies, hunching forward increases cortisol levels in your blood which will make you stressed. It also makes you look submissive and nervous, so try to avoid it.

In a study, test subjects were asked to guess who was the leader of different work teams. It turned out that they didn’t pick the actual leader, but most often chose one of the groups with the best posture. A good posture automatically signals that you’re confident and it makes you more attractive.

People often make the mistake of leaning backward when they try to improve their posture. Avoid doing that and instead, use the technique below.

15. 5-second posture quick fix

These are the benefits of doing this exercise:

  • You will look more confident and attractive.
  • People will assume you to be the leader of the group.
  • It’s better for your back.
  • Your voice will automatically become stronger because now there’s more room for breathing and voice resources.

Stand in front of a mirror and lift your chest upwards (don’t push it forward, just up). Lift it so that you feel a bit of stretch in your belly.

Some things to think about here:

  1. Keep your chin in and down.
  2. Keep your hip slightly forward rotated so that your spine remains straight, it’s easy to rotate it backward and that will push your belly out.
  3. Don’t lift your chest too high. Check in a mirror from the side and hold it where it looks good. When you hold it – memorize the sensation in your belly.
  4. Whenever you think about it, raise your chest until you feel that feeling you’ve memorized in your belly.

So in summary, with maintained cheek and hip, move your chest up until you feel this slight stretch in your belly.

Your back can hurt a bit before you get used to your new posture. When that happens, give your back some rest.

Practice this whenever your posture comes to mind. It took quite a while for me before I did it permanently. Now, I don’t need to think about it anymore: It has been taking care of by my subconscious. Be prepared to remind yourself time after time for several months before it’s a part of your new permanent posture.

16. Feet direction

If you want to understand someone’s true intent, look at their feet. Their feet almost always point in the direction they subconsciously want to go.

If a group of people are having a conversation, they will point their feet towards the person they are attracted to or towards the person who they see as the leader of the group. If someone wants to get away from the conversation, their feet are pointed away from the group or towards the exit.

Christoffer Lindgren who’s part of the SocialPro team is exceptionally good at connecting with people. One of the reasons for this is his ability to direct his full attention to the person he’s talking to. You never get the feeling that he has to go somewhere (unless he has to), and that makes him rewarding to talk to.

If you’ve read Pickup advice, you’ve probably heard that you should look like you’re on your way somewhere – at least the first minute or so. If you’re in a situation where it’s not explicitly meant to socialize, say that you start talking to your neighbor in the hallway, it can be a good idea to not instantly point your body straight towards him or her as it can feel too invasive. However, say that you want to create a close connection with your neighbor, make sure to give him or her your full focus after a minute or so.

We are already programmed to do things like this automatically, but sometimes it can be good to reflect upon how we actually behave socially and if we are repeating some mistakes that are easy to fix.

So – to really connect with someone, make that person feel like you have time for him or her and aren’t on your way somewhere else.

Often when we feel a bit uncomfortable talking to someone – perhaps because we don’t know what to say next – we want to get away from the conversation. The other person might mistake that for you not wanting to talk.

Signal that you are interested in continuing the conversation by pointing your feet towards the person.

On the opposite – if you want to end the conversation with someone, pointing away from the conversation and angling your body away will signal that you are about to take off.

17. Taking up space

When we feel uncomfortable, our reptile system makes us attend a body language that’s great for defense and escape. Feet towards the exit – protecting vital organs, sitting straight up instead of leaning backward, tensing our muscles, producing adrenaline and cortisol to act fast and hit hard.

It’s a great system when it comes to avoiding being eaten – it isn’t as good for socializing and making friends.

You have to work against the reptile system to create this backward effect of feeling confident through acting confident. Here’s a good exercise for this purpose:

18. Taking up space-exercise

Say that you’re at someone’s house, in an unknown environment with people you don’t know.

You probably feel stiff and suddenly it feels like you forgot how to even sit in a way that wouldn’t make people think you’re weird.

Think back on how you would sit if it would be in your own sofa together with your best friend, and attend that pose. (Within the social rules of the situation you happen to be in).

It’s probably more relaxed; leaning backward, taking up more space with your arms and legs.

Use this “my own sofa” position whenever you feel tense when sitting.

19. Mirroring

Except for in situations where there’s an actual risk to be eaten, it’s never wrong to use a relaxed body language. Outgoing people don’t only show that they enjoy the moment. They are also great at mirroring the person they are talking to.

Mirroring is when you in a non-obvious way behave like the person you’re talking to.

Everyone is doing this subconsciously – more or less. Without even thinking about it, you speak with a different jargon and speed to say, your grandma, than with your friends.

20. An interesting experiment

In an experiment, one group of people watched a documentary about senior living, while the other group watched a nature documentary.

Without the test subjects knowledge, the scientists measured how long it took for them to walk the hallway from the video room to the entrance of the facility after the movie.

The group who had seen the documentary about senior living were on average walking slower than the reference group. This experiment shows how mirroring is something we do subconsciously.

With that said, we sometimes forget to adjust how we behave, and that creates a disconnect between us and people we meet.

To get a sense of how mirroring can be the deal breaker when it comes to making friends, let me tell you a story about a guy I know who no one really wanted to hang out with, simply because he always spoke very fast and with a higher energy than anyone else.

This lack of mirroring affected his entire life – he couldn’t connect with people.

As he after a while became aware of this and started to adjust his energy, it was like his social life just switched on in just a few weeks – it became fun to hang out with him.

Mirroring affects not only the social energy level but also your general appearance. If you want to connect with someone, act more like that person.

Mirror the…

  • Position the other person is standing in or sitting in.
  • Jargon; the level of advanced terms, foul language, jokes.
  • Social energy level; Talking speed, voice level, general energy level.
  • Type of discussion; If someone’s talking about the meaning of life it’s weird to start talking about everyday matters and vice versa.

Naturally, you shouldn’t compromise who you are and only mirror what you’re comfortable with.

21. Final Exercise – Turning nervousness into confidence

An outgoing body language is about looking and feeling comfortable, mirroring the person you’re talking to and showing that you’re into the conversation when you’re talking to someone.

Here’s a great exercise that I used to do a lot.

It’s said that if you are afraid of the dark, the best way to conquer the fear is to stand still in a dark room for a long time. Being scared is energy consuming, and after a while, your body simply won’t have the energy to feel scared anymore. Well, in this exercise we are going to use the same principle but for social situations instead.

Say that you’re in one of those situations where there are people around you and you don’t know what to do, so you pick your phone up just to look busy.

  • Next time, instead of picking your phone up, enter a relaxed position like the “my own sofa” position. Or, if you’re standing up, just put your thumbs down your pockets, fingers pointing downwards.
  • Actively lower your stress levels by breathing slowly and paying attention to each breath.
  • You will after just a minute notice how you are in charge of how you feel – you will experience how you are the one who decides if you want to feel comfortable.
  • You will also notice how, as long as you look confident, you don’t need to talk to someone or do something with your phone.

For me, this was a paradigm shift.

I started enjoy feeling relaxed in environments that I know most people think are stressful. It was a relief for me to just stand and feel relaxed in intense social situations: “Nah, screw this nervosity thing. I’m gonna choose to sit here and enjoy it instead.”

Click here if you want to see my review of the 11 best books on body language.

Let your confident body language do the talking

Learn body language skills and look as well as feel more attractive in social situations. Make yourself look like the leader of a group and take charge of any social scenario better than before.

Which component of confident body language do you struggle with the most? Share your struggles in the comments– you’re not alone!

References:

  1. Thompson, Jeff.  (2011). Is nonverbal communication a numbers game? Is body language really 90% of how we communicate?  Psychology Today.
  2. Zetlin, Minda.  (2016). 16 Powerful body language tips to instantly exude confidenceInc.