As much as I want you to unleash your inner winner, I know nerve-wracking and awkward situations can come up. I should know—I’m a recovering awkward person.
It may be the first day on a new job or the first time meeting her parents or you’re getting ready to pitch your new product—whatever the case, body language comes into play.
When we’re nervous or uncomfortable, we engage in comforting or self-soothing gestures.
Self-soothing gestures are signs of inner nervousness.
Here’s a few common examples:
• Rubbing the backs of arms
• Rubbing the suprasternal notch (the indentation in the middle of the collar bone)
• Wringing hands
• Cracking knuckles
• Biting tongue/lips
• Preening (futzing with hair, adjusting clothes)
Why do we do this? It’s evolutionary in nature—when we were babies and would get upset or cry, our parent or guardian would rub our backs, arms, and head to calm us down. Fast forward, and we now self-soothe to mimic that childhood response.
Self-soothing indicates inner nerves, and it’s the #1 enemy of our ability to portray confidence. These cues signal to others that you’re uncomfortable in your own skin.
Another type of nervous body language is in movement. This could be:
Nervous movement can be incredibly distracting, especially if you’re giving a presentation or leading a meeting. Practice planting your feet firmly on the floor and only use movement when it’s purposeful. Push pens and other distracting objects out of the way.
Blocking behavior is another type of nervous/negative body language. Blocking is a protective behavior that happens when we feel severely uncomfortable or threatened. Typically, the torso is blocked to protect the inner organs. A few examples include:
• Crossed arms
• Eye blocking (shading eyes, pinching the bridge of the nose)
• Clutching purse, drink, book in front of the body
• Placing laptop, iPad, phone in front of the body
Another blocking cue is shame. Shame can be identified by the tips of the fingers resting on the side of the forehead. This can be the result of guilt or embarrassment.
Just like microexpressions, blocking behavior is an expression of an inner emotion or feeling. Practice responding appropriately to these cues and ask questions to dig deeper.
Self-soothing, nervous movement, and blocking behavior are “blockers” of connection. As weird as it is, we can smell fear. And when we pick up on fear or nerves, it triggers a similar response in us, which breaks down confidence, power, and our inner winner.
Here’s how to cope:
1) Self-soothe privately. Before you take the stage or leave your house, rub your arms to calm yourself down. You’ll feel better and ready to take on the activity.
2) Film yourself. It’s difficult to know off-hand what our nervous cues are. Film yourself talking about your favorite TV show or saying your elevator pitch to see if you have any nervous tics or tendencies.
3) Anti-block. If you’re communicating with someone who’s blocking, offer them a drink or business card to encourage open and positive body language.
Less self-touch and nervous cues encourages and demonstrates confidence. Let’s go back to the Kennedy/Nixon debate. Nixon self-soothed, and we could pick up on his nerves. Kennedy, on the other hand, displayed a more alpha-like and calm demeanor. Think like Kennedy.
P.S. Nervous entrepreneur? Check out my special tips just for you!
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