The way we speak in conversation with other people says a lot about how confident we feel, yet we're often unaware of the subtle nuances of the way we're communicating and the resulting message we're sending about our self-image to other people. Simply changing the way we converse can boost our general level of confidence. When we hear ourselves communicating more effectively it reminds us of our innate power and inner confidence. And when others experience us as a powerful communicator, we connect better, gain greater trust and respect, and become the sort of person other people want to be around.
So here are some simple, easy ways to converse with greater confidence:
Be Clear and Direct, Avoiding Waffle
Ever notice how some people you talk with say the same thing over and over, rephrasing their point in different ways without ever stopping to ever see if you got it or not? As they waffle on and on, you find yourself losing interest and feeling confused about what it is they are really saying.
Confident communication is clear, direct and succinct. The fewer words you can make a point in, the more powerful it will be. Strunk and White's advice in their classic book on writing The Elements of Style is equally applicable when speaking: make every word tell.
Avoid Filler Words and Phrases
Avoid ums and ahs when speaking and eliminate filler phrases that dilute the power of your words. "Sort of", "kind of", and "you know?" are some classic examples. Usually when we use "you know?", the other person doesn't know; otherwise we wouldn't be telling them. If you're not picking up whether they're following what you're saying via their non-verbal signals, ask them directly.
"To tell you the truth" and "to be honest" are also better relegated to the dustbin. They imply that you haven't been entirely truthful up until now, and are a poor way to build suspense. Be the kind of communicator who always speaks the truth and doesn't need to explicitly state it for dramatic effect.
Use "I" Statements
It's Assertiveness-101's first rule: learn to speak for yourself. Often when we lack confidence, we use the word "you" a lot when we really mean "I". We do this when we're seeking other people's approval and want to avoid rejection by making ourselves seem like them.
Learn to express yourself directly with "I" statements by replacing "you" with "I" whenever it makes sense. You don't need other people to validate your experiences, thoughts, and feelings. If they share them, they will identify with what you are saying. And if not, that doesn't matter; the important thing is that you've been able to share what is real for you with someone else.
Distinguish Thoughts and Feelings
Many people use sloppy language around expressing their feelings, using the phrase "I feel that..." to describe their thoughts. I find that men are particularly bad at this, especially when they are out of touch with their emotions. We spend so much of our lives learning analytical thinking that we lose touch with how we feel and can no longer even recognize our emotions. Expressing how we feel allows us to experience our emotions in a deeper and richer manner, which is cathartic for us and connects more deeply with others.
Learn to distinguish thoughts and feelings in the way you speak, by dropping the phrase "I feel that ..." from your vocabulary. Either say "I think ..." followed by a thought, or "I feel ..." followed by an emotion or body sensation. Shift your preference towards revealing your emotions. What you think is interesting on an intellectual level, but talking about how you feel makes you fascinating to listen to.
Slow Everything Down
In our fast-paced Western society it's easy to race through our conversations just like we race through life. When we talk quickly, we tend to come across as nervous and insecure to other people. We hear ourselves racing through our conversation as if there isn't enough time to say everything that needs to be said. Or we respond instantly to the other person's comments or questions without taking time to really think, because we want them to think we're smart and on-the-ball.
Slow down. Practice speaking more slowly and allowing the words to come to you thoughtfully instead of charging ahead with the first thing that comes into your head.
Practice Active Listening
Great conversationalists are active listeners. They make other people feel comfortable and valued just by the way they give their attention. There are verbal and non-verbal signals that show you are listening, but they're all based on having the intention of really understanding where the other person is coming from.
Reflective listening is a powerful active listening technique for deepening intimacy, rapport and understanding in your conversations. Listen for words that describe the way a person is feeling, and reflect this back to them with "Sounds like you're feeling ...". Learn to identify emotions in the other person's dialogue and pepper your conversation with reflective statements, varying your phrasing for variety. Reflect back their thoughts too. You'll be amazed how this builds trust and rapport with other people very quickly.
Stop After Asking A Question
It may seem obvious to say that after you ask a person a question, you want to stop and wait for their answer; yet I notice that many men who lack confidence don't do this. They keep rambling on, asking the question again in a different form without even giving the other person the space to think.
Leave some space for your conversation partner to give you a considered reply. Learn to be comfortable with silences in your conversation and allow other people time to think. Take a tip from great salesmen and negotiators: after making someone an offer or giving them an invitation, keep your mouth shut and just listen. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but practice leaving a silence and letting them fill it with their inner thoughts; you'll be amazed at what you discover.
A few years back while reading Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink, I came across the golden rule of Theatrical Improvisation: always accept what other people say about you as being true. When I noticed how often I broke this rule in conversation, I realized how defensive I was. Always worried about what other people thought of me, I would respond quickly and defensively whenever I feared that the other person might get the wrong idea about me. What I was doing was killing rapport and shutting down any playfulness in the conversation. No wonder I was hopeless at flirting! Any time a woman in particular made a playful or suggestive comment towards me, I'd respond by shutting them down instead of smiling and just going with it.
Start noticing how you respond to people when they say something a little out of left-field to you. Whenever you have the anxious thought "What are they going to think?", notice if you become defensive. Practice being playful instead, rolling with the punches in fun. Pick your battles so that when you really do need to stand up for yourself, it has a powerful impact.
Share Your Thoughts and Feelings Freely
We all have thoughts and feelings that we're happy to share with other people; and others that we're not so proud of or fear will get a frosty reception. We've been taught that only certain thoughts and feelings are acceptable; but in reality we have relatively little control over our thoughts, and even less control over our feelings. Often we end up withholding or attempting to justify our thoughts and feelings unnecessarily.
Adopt the idea that thoughts and feelings just are, and don't need to be judged. Rather than pretending that you're something you're not, learn to express your true thoughts and feelings without justifying them. When we drop our judgments and justifications of thoughts and feelings, we start getting in touch with our deeper inner drives and intuition. The less time and effort you spend justifying to yourself and other people everything that goes on in your head, the more confident and in-touch with your true self you'll feel.
Record Your Conversations
Recording your conversations gives you a sense of how you're coming across to other people, and whether you're applying the other tips in this article effectively or not.
Get yourself a digital voice recorder and practice recording your conversations so you can hear how you're occurring to others. Be prepared to have the sound of your own voice grate a little when you first hear it. You may also pick up irritating verbal mannerisms you'd like to drop, that you're not currently even aware of. Notice whether you talk too fast or too slow, interrupt the other person you're talking to, respond defensively, or spend too much or too little time listening. Even just being aware of how you're really coming across to other people makes a huge difference. Adjust your conversation style to match the kind of confident communicator you are deep down so other people get to experience the real you.