Search “women’s body language” and you’ll find entries on flirting, flirting at work, reading sexual signals or catching attraction cues. Following our column on workplace interview wardrobes, you might think I’d start with inappropriate clothing
Women’s biggest risks are not simply their fashion choices; rather it’s their communication style. Soft, subtle and meant to connect with others, it has some nuances we must address:
A nod, for example, by a man says he agrees or understands. A women’s head nod signals, listening, encouraging the speaker to continue and at times that she agrees or empathizes. Nod too much and we lose authority. Better not to bobble your head. Learn to keep your head still and be taken seriously and add to your authority and power.
Messages of ‘being less’ are sent to colleagues and classmates in these two sets of body language cues:
1. Overall body management
2. Finer feminine details
(Some elements are detailed in previous Communication Culture columns)
1.1 Weak handshakes signal submissive behaviours so go for a firm handshake and move your hands up and down.
1.2 Partial arm cross appears as a half body hug that lets one arm hang down at the side and the other hug the torso. It instantly signals low confidence, anxiety and a need to self comfort or trying to soothe nerves.
1.3 Touching of the face, hair and playing with jewellery combine the assumptions people make about women’s body language and the pitfalls of the ‘fine and feminine points.” Hair touching, curling tendrils and twirling jewellery pieces can perceived as flirting or lack of confidence. Rest your hand girl friend and trust your feminine presentation as it is. Studies show that women who flirt have less negotiation power which translates to less when it comes to raises.
1.4 Shrinking is what I see as the opposite of the fluffing up I noted above. Have you noticed how women minimize themselves? Height and space transmits a message of power so stand tall, head high, shoulders back, unlock your elbows stuck to your sides. Now, how compact do you make the materials in your work space? Reduce your status or expand a bit and claim your space. Your choice.
Of the Finer Feminine gestures, let’s focus today on two.
2.1 Head tilting -It’s an age old sign to show listening. It can be misread, however as ‘going along’ with folks and of flirting. Go ahead. Stand in front of a mirror, say something meaningful and SEE if you look or sound authoritative. Heads up women! And neutral.
2.2 Smiling, while not exclusively feminine, it’s part of our programmed ‘welcome gestures.’ We do it to fit in and to help others. Too much toothiness and smiles, however, dilutes credibility. It’s especially deadly when our facial activity, such as smiling, does not match the subject matter in play.
I’ve often been confused when someone is smiling while they are clearly angry, being negative or talking about something sensitive. Smiles are good at first meetings with clients or friends as they support friendliness and likeability, in general.
VIP: As we struggle to be accepted for who we are and to fit in, I feel these pointers are less about ‘being like a man’ than knowing what HAS BEEN the norm for a long time. It’s an opportunity for those who have not had great exposure to the world of business to know what is expected and comfortable for who is there now, and a foundation for those of us filtering in from other places and professions.