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This is one emotion that you should fake at work

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Published Mar. 15, 2017

Your boss asks you to plan an off-site staff meeting, a task you've never had to do. You can reply one of two ways: You can say, "No problem. I'm on it," and get busy; or, you can whisper, "I have no idea how to do that," and fret over your ignorance. Chances are, you'd pick option one. (Good choice.)

Congratulations, you've just employed the "fake it 'til you make it" strategy! Not sure what to do in any given situation? Fake self-confidence and pretend you know how to proceed, all the while figuring it out as you go! You may feel like a charlatan, but it turns out there's something very real about the benefits of faking it.

People who enter a situation with confidence are perceived more positively and achieve higher status in a group, according to a study by Gavin Kilduff and Adam Galinsky in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"Even if we don't feel confident, by practicing confident behaviors, eventually thoughts and feelings about our abilities become more confident in nature," says Kimber Shelton, a Dallas-based psychologist.

Learning how to build confidence in the workplace doesn't happen overnight, and even top executives struggle with low self-esteem. Check out these tips on how best to fake it 'til you make it. (Don't worry: Your secret's safe with us.)

Practice the right posture

Remember when your teachers told you to sit up straight? Well it's time to start heeding their advice, especially as it relates to body language.

Shrinking and slouching doesn't inspire confidence, and neither does getting too comfortable by kicking back with your feet on the table, says Steve Errey, a London-based confidence coach. "You don't have to go around with your head held high and your hands on your hips all the time," he says. "A natural posture that stretches your spine will not only feel good, but will present well, too."

Mind your eye contact

Your eyes are a dead giveaway as to whether you're feeling secure. Looking someone in the eyes means you're engaged; averting your eyes means you're, well, averting the situation.

The goal is to comfortably look people in the eye without having them feel like you're staring them down. "What eye contact can do, if you do it naturally, is humanize you and the person you're talking with," putting you both at ease, Errey says.

Pay special attention to your eye contact during hellos and good-byes; it's also important to look people in the eyes throughout the conversation to show you're still present and listening.

Cultivate an optimistic attitude

When faced with a challenge, many people confront it with an "I have to do this" mindset, says Scott Eblin, a Santa Monica, Calif.–based executive coach, speaker and author of Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative.

"Try reframing those situations as 'I get to do this,' rather than 'I have to do this,' " he says. "I get to share my expertise with new people. I get to learn something new. I get to stretch myself in ways that will help me grow. It's a simple shift from 'have to' to 'get to' that can make a ton of difference in your attitude and confidence level."

Focus on learning over winning

The way to eradicate the "faking it" part is by making it. School yourself so you're forced to fake it less often. Take notes at meetings, read industry blogs and the latest studies in your field, sign up for newsletters, read up on leaders in your field. Make it a goal to learn a little bit every day.

"Learning not only gives your confidence a workout through the stretch and discomfort inherent in doing something you don't already know," Errey says, "but it also shows others that you accept that you don't already know it all and that you're willing and happy to grow."

Remember your strengths

It's all too easy to dwell on the things you don't know — but that's a guaranteed confidence killer. Counter negative thoughts with positive self-affirmations. Make it a point to remember you have a wealth of experience, skills, talents and strengths you can draw on, Errey says.

Write short messages about your strengths, then read them throughout the day, particularly when facing a challenge, Shelton says. "The more we reinforce our strengths," she says, "the more confident we will feel over time."

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