Confidence is one of the keys to an attorney's success -- whether that’s in the courtroom, status reputation amongst peers, or winning new clients. It is also one of the most elusive character traits, perhaps on account of its emotional components. While people often try to fake it, the best way to appear confident is to exude true confidence. Thankfully, this is a soft-skill that can be enhanced.
As an attorney, you have to persuade others to trust you and believe in you. If you don’t have unwavering faith in yourself, how can you expect others to believe that you can negotiate a multimillion-dollar settlement, execute a bone-chilling cross-examination, or win over a jury?
Obstacles don’t deter confident people. They are always ready to meet challenges, take risks, and forge ahead. An attorney who appears hesitant or insecure is always at a disadvantage when facing a headstrong opponent and his or her law practice success undoubtedly reflects their visible insecurity.
Fortunately, for those who feel they have not been naturally endowed with confidence, there is hope. According to author Barrie Davenport, "Low self-confidence isn't a life sentence...Once you master [confidence], everything in your life will change for the better."
A prominent British geneticist studied 3,700 twins and found that a student's self-confidence was 50 percent nature and 50 percent nurture. This means that there is a lot you can do to enhance your situation.
7 Strategies to Boost Your Confidence
1. Watch Your Internal Messages
Rule No. 1 of a confident attorney is, you must never tell yourself that you can’t make it and that you are going to fail. Imagine you had a friend who was always telling you that you won’t make it, that you don’t have what it takes. Would you keep calling them? If that’s not the case, you should not allow the same type of comments inside your own head.
"We tell ourselves stories about who we are and form conclusions about ourselves," Dr. Matthew Whally explains. "These opinions can get ‘fixed’, as though they are ‘truths’ for all time. In reality though, they are just stories or labels, and they don’t capture the full truth of who we are."
Competitive Memory Training (COMET) is a method that has been found to be effective in boosting self-confidence. COMET includes the following steps:
- Identify the negative self-image
- Identify a positive self-image
- Make the positive self-image more competitive in the memory retrieval hierarchy
- Associate the emotionally enhanced positive self-knowledge with cues that usually trigger dysfunctional negative self-concepts
While COMET is a therapeutic tool used by professionals, it is possible to learn some of its conditioning techniques to boost your confidence.
2. Shun Negativity
Do you have a colleague or relative who continually shreds your confidence? Time to keep a solid distance. Once you learn to be more self-confident, their negative comments won’t affect you anymore, but while you are working on it, it’s best to keep them at bay.
Whenever you are in a rough spot, don’t lose sight of everything that is positive in your life and your career. Small victories can be a stepping stone for bigger ones, and an optimistic outlook can be the key to your success.
3. Focus on Your Image
Visual cues are key when it comes to confidence perception. When you dress smart, you both feel more confident and are perceived as more confident. Remember that clothes also tell a story and choose carefully.
Eva Haller's book Psychology of Color introduces the results of research into what people associate with colors. Its contents are profoundly revealing, and certainly worth paying attention to in your branding, marketing, and wardrobe. For 2,000 survey respondents, the colors of safety are green, blue, white, and gold. On the other hand, red, yellow, and orange are associated with fun, while brown and grey are often associated with laziness.
Even when people do not consciously think, "this lawyer is wearing brown; therefore, he must be lazy," there are complex processes and associations at work, and one must take every opportunity to appear confident and reliable.
A study found that black is the absolute winner if you want to feel confident. More than half of the study’s subjects said they perceived people who were wearing black as more confident. The notion that “black makes people appear more attractive, intelligent and confident” is widespread.
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, men wearing suits perform better in a negotiation setting. Researchers found that this is partly due to higher levels of dominance and confidence. In the case of women, stylish outfits may have a similar effect.
4. Body Language for Confidence
What you are wearing is only the tip of the iceberg. Your posture has a profound effect on how you are perceived by prospects, clients, colleagues, judges, and jurors. Standing with your back straight and shoulders back can make you look confident, and making eye contact is essential. If your body language makes people feel comfortable around you, they will be naturally inclined toward liking you.
In her viral TED talk, Amy Cuddy, an influential social psychologist, offered several body language tips to boost one’s self-confidence. According to Cuddy and many prominent researchers, smiling is at the top of the list. When you smile, you can put not only others, but also yourself at ease. Cuddy also recommends power-posing, i.e., imitating the body language of powerful and confident people.
According to her, power-posing is more effective than repeating confidence mantras. If you look down, with your back hunched, your body will tell your brain that you feel powerless, and that is how you will feel. Expansive poses, on the other hand, where you stand straight and take up a lot of space, for example, placing your hands on your hips, can have a positive effect on how you feel. Sounds foolish, yet body language is so important to one’s opinion of your
5. Mind Your Voice
A Yale study published in American Psychologist revealed that our tone of voice is central to how others perceive our emotions; surprisingly, much more than our facial expressions. According to Yale researcher Michael Kraus,
“There’s now a lot of discussion about how to look more confident, or how to hide certain less desirable emotion states by using non-verbal communication... There is a chance that people might mislead listeners with their nonverbal communication. Misleading people through vocal expressions is more unlikely because controlling vocals is much harder to do.”
Thus, it would seem that people trust how you sound more than how you look.
It is important to sound calm and relaxed. If you sound hesitant, you may be perceived as insecure or uninformed. Vocal resonance is key here. Vocal coaches have developed useful exercises you can do regularly to sound more confident.
According to Arthur Samuel Joseph, one of the top professionals in the field, “When we are congruent in mind/body/spirit, no longer afraid to claim our power--confidently embodying who we are capable of being--achievement/fulfillment become the natural outgrowth of this integral integration.”
No matter how much you've got to say, if you don't pause to listen to what the other person is saying, and just go on and on about yourself, you may appear insecure or nervous. On the other hand, if you subtly convey your message and make your listener feel important, they will be more interested in hearing what you have to say.
To engage your audience, listen for those precious golden nuggets that will allow you to ask questions, and make connections that can make the other person feel like you are really paying attention.
7. Be prepared
As mentioned above, in order to appear confident, one needs to feel confident. If you go to each meeting, hearing, deposition very well prepared, if you have carefully designed a strategy and know what your plan B, your plan C, and even your plan D is, you will seem confident, because you will be in control of the situation. Make a list of goals for every interaction and aim straight at your targets.