It’s a new year and a new decade. Let’s get things started by looking at ways to improve how we interact with others by examining habits of insecurity and/or nervousness.
We all have nervous habits we display in uncomfortable situations that make us look weak. Once you recognize yours, they’re surprisingly easy to correct.
A few important caveats:
You won’t exhibit all these behaviors when you’re feeling insecure. In fact, not even most of them. To get the most from this, identify the ones you know you do and practice minimizing those. By solving just a few of your biggest problem behaviors you’ll significantly improve your perception in one-to-one exchanges.
You probably need help identifying your nervous habits. Some of your behaviors are so ingrained that you won’t realize you do them until someone points them out to you. One of the most effective ways to get this feedback is in Toastmasters. When you give a speech, your evaluator (along with the rest of the club when they pass notes of feedback to you) will point out some signs of nerves you had no idea you were doing. It’s a fabulous resource that I highly recommend.
One behavior does not give you away. You can’t accurately read someone with a single nervous habit because many habits have multiple meanings that can’t be deciphered on their own. In most cases where you’re nervous, you’ll exhibit multiple nervous behaviors simultaneously.
This will only be hard at first. Confidence can be hard to come by but, once you have it, it’s easy to keep with little maintenance. If you do the work to get yourself headed the right direction, you’ll benefit from it for a long time.
There are enough of these habits to examine that it will take several posts to get through them all. Let’s get to it!
Lack of eye contact
When you’re nervous, it’s common to avoid eye contact. Eye contact is intimate, and your body wants to avoid any kind of intimacy when it’s anxious.
How to correct it: When it’s your turn to talk (or when the person you’re talking to finishes a thought), remind yourself to re-establish eye contact. Too much is unnatural and signals aggression, so don’t go overboard. You can significantly increase your perception of confidence just by regularly re-establishing eye contact for a short time.
When you bring your eyebrows down momentarily and sharply, it signals anger. But when you bring them down moderately and keep them there, it signifies an internal struggle and weakness.
How to correct it: Remind yourself to smile regularly and fully open your eyes. This forces the eyebrows to raise. Also, try not to interact with others when you’re overly tired (this can also cause the eyebrows to droop).
Lip licking / biting
Nervousness can cause dry mouth which, in turn, can subconsciously cause you to lick your lips, and the tension in your face can cause you to bite them.
How to correct it: Before an important conversation, try to drink a significant amount of water (but not so much that you’d be uncomfortable without a bathroom break). If it’s appropriate, have a beverage ready during the conversation, too.
When you’re insecure, your body attempts to make itself small. Tucking the chin during an exchange when you’re nervous is a protective measure.
How to correct it: Take slow, deep breaths while interacting. A deep breath expands your body and will naturally encourage your chin to stay up.
This would be unusual during most situations, but may come out when you’re extremely stressed. Your body is preparing itself for a fight or flight response which demonstrates you feel a huge threat.
How to correct it: If you’re experiencing this, you may need to excuse yourself from the interaction and take a moment in private to calm yourself.
Turning body away / shielding the torso
Your torso is the biggest, most vulnerable part of your body. When you’re insecure or nervous, you tend to protect it by turning it away from whatever is making you uncomfortable.
How to correct it: Make a habit of occasionally checking to see what direction you’d look if you pointed your face straight ahead. If it’s not at the people you’re talking to, adjust.
You tend to hunch your shoulders (pulling them forward and in) when you’re stressed and are attempting to make your body small.
How to correct it: Remind yourself to take slow, deep breaths as you speak. The deeper the breath, the more it will force your torso and shoulders to open.
Like I said, this is just the start. Our next post will look at some more of these insecurity signals and the easy fixes.