If a woman wants to be perceived as credible, confident, and powerful she has to be aware of the nonverbal signals she's sending. Too often, women on all levels of the corporate ladder unknowingly exhibit behaviors that reduce their authority.
If you want to be taken seriously by your superiors and co-workers, avoid the following 10 common women's body language mistakes:
1. Using too many head tilts. Head tilting is a signal that someone is listening and involved—and a particularly feminine gesture. Head tilts can be very positive cues, but people also subconsciously process them as signals of submission. Women who want to project power and authority should keep their heads straight up in a more neutral position.
2. Condensing your space. One way that status is nonverbally demonstrated in a business meeting is by physically taking up room. Lower-status, less-confident men (and most women) tend to pull in their bodies and minimize their size, while high status males expand and take up space. So at your next meeting, spread out your belongings and claim your turf!
3. Acting girlish. Everyone uses pacifying gestures when under stress: they rub their hands together, grab their upper arms, and touch their necks. Women, however, are viewed as much less powerful when they pacify with girlish behaviors (twirling hair, playing with jewelry, or biting a finger.)
4. Smiling excessively. While smiling can be a powerful and positive nonverbal cue— especially for signaling likeability and friendliness—women should be aware that excessive or inappropriate smiling can be confusing and can lower their credibility. This is especially true if you smile while discussing a serious subject, expressing anger, or giving negative feedback.
5. Nodding too much. When a man nods, it means he agrees. When a woman nods, it means she agrees—or is listening to, empathizing with, or encouraging the speaker to continue. This excessive head nodding can make a female look like a bobble-head doll. Constant head nodding can express encouragement and engagement, but not authority and power.
6. Speaking "up." Women's voices often rise at the ends of sentences as if they're asking a question or asking for approval. When stating your opinion, be sure to use the authoritative arc, in which your voice starts on one note, rises in pitch through the sentence and drops back down at the end.
7. Waiting your turn. In negotiations, men talk more than women and interrupt more frequently. One perspective on the value of speaking up comes from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who, when asked what advice she had for up-and-coming professional women, replied, "Learn to interrupt."
8. Being overly expressive. While a certain amount of movement and animation adds passion and meaning to a message, women who express the entire spectrum of emotions often overwhelm their audience (especially if the audience is comprised primarily of males). So in situations where you want to maximize your authority, minimize your movements. When you appear calm and contained, you look more powerful.
9. Shaking hands too delicately. People who have a weak handshake are judged to be passive and less confident. So take the time to cultivate your "professional shake." 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 (the skin between your thumb and first finger) touches the web of the other person's; and, most of all, remember to shake hands firmly.
10. Flirting. Women gain likeability but lose their competitive advantage when they flirt. In a UC Berkeley study female actors played the roles of sellers of a biotech business. Half were told to project a no-nonsense, business approach. Half were instructed to flirt (using the nonverbal behaviors of smiling, leaning forward suggestively, tossing their hair, etc.) —but to do so subtly. The outcome was that the "buyers" offered the flirts (dubbed "likeable losers") 20% less, on average, than what they offered the more straitlaced sellers.
About the Author(s) :- Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an executive coach, change-management consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is the author of The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work. Her new book, The Silent Language of Leaders, will be published in spring 2011. For more information, contact: CGoman@CKG.com or visit: www.NonverbalAdvantage.com and www.CKG.com