While body language in the social set-up is much less important, considering the casual nature of such environs, professionally, a slack body language is a big deal breaker. It projects you as somebody with low or no confidence, non-reliable and lethargic. It is almost a certainty that you are picturing a well dress, confident man when I talk about body language. However, body language is equally (if not more) important to posses for the corporate woman of today who wishes to match shoulder with her male counterpart.
Recently, I came across this experience that occurred in my office and that reminded me of how important it is to have the right body language to avoid being taken otherwise at work. The story goes like this: An attractive female manager was having problems dealing with her male employees in the department. “They never take me seriously,” she complained to me. “It’s as if they think I’m flirting with them—which I definitely am not!”
After noticing her interact with members of her staff, I saw the problem. She was trying to discuss work-related issues while using a “social gaze.”
More on that here:
If you create an imaginary triangle, the base of which are the eyes and the apex is mid-forehead, you will have mapped out the “look of business.” When you keep your gaze in that area, you non-verbally signal a no-nonsense, business-like approach.
When you invert the triangle and move your focus to the area from the eyes to the mouth, you transform your gaze into one that is appropriate for social encounters. And a social gaze can be misinterpreted as flirtatious—even in a business setting.
Knowing about the business gaze doesn’t mean you should never look in someone’s social gaze area. (It can be highly effective to do so, using direct eye contact only when you want to stress important points.) Women, however, need to be aware that to be taken seriously in business interactions, a business gaze has the strongest impact.
That’s only one of the workplace body language issues faced uniquely by women. Another has to do with head tilts.
In primitive tribes, tilting the head was a way of hearing more clearly in order to be alerted to sounds of danger. Today, head tilting is a signal that someone is interested and involved. It is a particularly feminine gesture. Head tilts can be very positive cues, but they are also subconsciously processed as submission signals. In business dealings with men, women should keep their heads straight up in a neutral position.
Be aware of these additional non-verbal cues:
Women who have a firm handshake make a more favorable impression and are more likely to be judged as confident and assertive. So take the time to cultivate your “professional” handshake. Keep your body squared off to the other person—facing him or her fully. Make sure you have palm-to-palm contact and that the web of your hand touches the web of the other person’s. And, most of all, remember to shake hands firmly.
One way that status is demonstrated non-verbally in a business meeting is by physically taking up room. Lower-status, less-confident men (and most women) usually pull in and keep all of their materials in one neat pile, while high status men take up a lot of room. So at your next meeting, spread out your papers and claim your turf. Just please, don’t look all over the place!
More predictably than their male counterparts, women (when sitting) adopt an open-arm posture in the presence of someone they like. Women also tend to fold their arms across their chest when they feel indifferent to or dislike the other person. So watch what your arms are “saying.” They may give away more than you know!
Clothes make a strong visual statement about how a woman sees herself; it is here where women really have an edge in dressing for success. Appropriate dress is a way of expressing respect for the situation and the people in it. So a savvy woman will change her look to suit specific business situations.
Of course, increased awareness of what you wear, how you shake hands, and how you use other nonverbal signals is only half of the equation. The other half is the ability to accurately read the body language of others. And it is here where women really have the advantage. Women are more attuned to relationship dynamics and more skilled at picking up nonverbal cues. Isn’t it great to know that “women’s intuition” has become a very real and powerful professional skill!
In the world of body language, we’re often told that if you want to project power and confidence, you need to take up more space. Make yourself seem larger than life to claim your place in the world. Take larger strides when you walk into a room. Put your hands on your hips and stand with your feet apart. Sit tall with your head held high.
But again, what if you’re a woman? Are all power postures suitable for women who want to look not only confident, but also elegant? Would you sit with your knees apart or put your feet on the table to simply claim your space?
“As a woman, what are the best body language postures when you want to portray confidence in an elegant way, without scaring others off?”
How to Convey Confidence and Elegance When Sitting
For women, a common issue they come across when sitting down is that they don’t want to sit with the legs apart, especially if they’re wearing a skirt. While the men in the room may have the benefit of sitting with their knees apart, ankle crossed over knee, or ankles crossed over each other to take up more space, elegant women aren’t left with as many leg choices to portray an equally confident and powerful image. But, we do still have some weapons available and it’s all about focusing on your arms, posture and voice instead.
i. Take Up Space With Your Arms.Place your elbows on the armrests of the chair you’re sitting in. Extend your forearms along the length of the armrest. Let you hands dangle over the edge. Lean back into your chair to show you’re relaxed, but don’t slouch; elegant women always keep their shoulders back and their head high. Slide your feet to one side, or cross your legs if it’s more comfortable for you. By placing your arms on the armrests, you take up space and project confidence. By maintaining good posture and open body language (i.e. not crossing your hands over your stomach), you project elegance and openness.
ii. Keep Your Hands Above the Table. Place your elbows on the meeting table. Let your forearms stretch across the table directly in front of you. Hold a pen if it feels better, but don’t fidget with it too much. Lean forward in your chair to show interest and keep your back straight and your head high. By placing your arms outstretched on the table, you take up space and project confidence. By making your hands visible, you convey honesty and openness.
iii. Speak In a Lower and More Authoritative Tone: Don’t be afraid to maintain eye contact with others. If it’s your turn to speak at a business meeting, keep your head high and while turning your head slowly from left to right, look each person directly in the eye for a couple of seconds while you speak. Solid eye contact when you’re talking shows that you’re comfortable with your opinions and aren’t afraid of others asking you questions. Smiling occasionally will also help you to look friendly and approachable.
How to Convey Confidence and Elegance When Standing
Most women are naturally shorter than men. As height is a natural power advantage, women commonly feel inferior or less powerful simply because they’re shorter. Although I cannot swirl my magic wand and add extra inches to your height, I can reassure you that with the following tips you can still look and feel confident.
i. Take Up Space With Your Stance.Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, and place one foot slightly in front of the other. This is a classic power stance that can be used by both men and women and will not detract from your elegance. With your feet firmly planted on the ground, you immediately appear solid, reliable and comfortable in your own skin and surroundings.
ii. Project Power with Your Posture.Posture is at the core of confidence, elegance and power. Push back your shoulders (just a little), expand your chest, lift your ribcage and keep your eyes up. Hold this posture when you are standing, even at the grocery store or walking down the street, soon it will become second nature. Good posture shows that you’re proud of who you are. It opens up your body language, boosts your confidence and, if you’re lucky, it may add a little extra height too.
iii. Even your Height With the Group. Occasionally you may physically be standing on uneven ground. To avoid an unnecessary height disadvantage, make sure that you always stand at the same level as everybody else in the group. Also, don’t lean. When you lean, you seem shorter, it encourages you to slouch, and it immediately detracts from your elegance.
Body Language Influences Your Mindset
It’s at the core of how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. If you adopt confident and elegant body language, people around you will see you as confident and elegant, regardless of how you may be feeling inside. You will pick up their reactions and vibes, you will see that others are treating you as a confident person and this will shift your mindset; you will believe that you’re a confident, elegant and powerful woman. You just need to start and with time, these body language tips will be second nature to you.