Take two lefts

I'm one of those people who give instructions like a girl. Where a guy would say take two lefts, go a half mile, and take a hard right, I include lots and lots of checkpoints: Go until you see the red barn on the left, turn at the Dairy Queen sign just before the house with the magnolia bush — you get the picture. (Undoubtedly, this habit's a leftover from being the navigator when I was a kid and not wanting to hurt my mom's feelings because she was hopeless with a map. If I sounded like I wasn't quite sure, then my being right wouldn't make my mom feel so incompetent. Of course, I now realize that she was delighted to be relieved of the task.)

I almost always know what I'm talking about, but I never sound like it when I'm telling people how to get somewhere. And they always seem surprised when I'm right because my tone and demeanor give exactly the wrong message. Even though I know what I'm talking about, I don't sound l ike it.

Fortunately, this equation works both ways. Just as sounding tentative convinces people not to take you seriously, sounding like you know what you're talking about convinces them that you're right. In other words, to a surprisingly large extent, how people view us is up to us. Got it?

Good.

I'm not suggesting that you petition to be hit upside the head with the ugly stick, just that you get on with your life, whatever you look like. Accept the ride home with the too-cute guy from your building who you never thought would ask you out — rather than worry why he'd ask you out. Introduce yourself to the fascinating woman you'd really like to know better. Or at least say "hi" to the person you see daily at the bus stop. Smart people do the best they can with what they've got, and they don't whine too much in the process.

Confidence is the ability to trust yourself and convey that sense to others, and appearance is half the battle. If you want to appear confident whether you feel confident or not, try the following (for more information about confidence and confidence building, see Chapter 3):

1 Stand up straight. Posture counts. A straight spine denotes purpose and strength (spineless means cowardly, after all). Face forward. Think military bearing rather than bent-over hag from Snow White, and you'll get the picture.

1 Smile. Not only is a smile a good umbrella to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but it also convinces others you're happy and healthy and wise. A frown makes you look like you're worried or frightened.

1 Make eye contact. It's all in the eyes. Showing that you're not afraid to look someone in the eye means that you're strong and truthful and willing to meet their scrutiny.

One of the most blatant tip-offs to a lie is the liar's inability to make eye contact — unless we're talking pathological liar here, and then you're sunk anyway. Your momma knew that when she said, "Look me in the eye and tell me you were studying."

1 Lean slightly forward. Whether you're standing or sitting, leaning forward rather than pulling back denotes energy and forthrightness — and that signals strength and willingness. It also lets your energy move forward. Leaning forward is a bit aggressive or at least assertive rather than defensive or passive.

1 Shake hands firmly (yeah, women, too). Upon entering a new situation, walking confidently into someone else's space and putting out your hand and firmly — not crushingly nor limply — offering a part of yourself in a friendly but assertive way says gobs and gobs of good things about you: You're unafraid, you're an equal, you're friendly, you're engaging. A firm handshake while you look someone in the eye works wonders in business and personal situations.

It's okay to feel nervous or excited, especially in new situations. An actor will tell you that unless she feels that adrenaline rush, she's not going to give a really top-notch performance. Make those nerves work for you. Remind yourself: I've felt this way before, and I survived; what's the worst thing that could happen, and how likely is that? It's okay to feel a bit edgy. I can do this. Confidence is both that quiet inner voice and that more obvious outer show.

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