Successful Women Business Leaders Use Body Language to Gain Authority and Influence
Women’s Business Leadership Coaching clients are often surprised that changing their body language can elevate their authority and the respect they receive. Both female executives and emerging women leaders are relieved that even minor changes in posture, gestures, use of space and how they position themselves in their work environment can create significant positive results without needing to be confrontational, even when a woman is being treated inappropriately. Women’s Business Leadership Coaching is a proven way to discover how to gain respect and influence with conscious body language and lead with your innate feminine characteristics, including compassion that spontaneously melts aggression.
Women Executives Sabotage Their Success When They Don’t Use Physical Space and Body Language to Claim Leadership Authority and Influence
Even when it is an unconscious effort, almost all people and cultures use physical space as one way to define their territory. Like many animals in the wild, humans are hardwired to associate the amount of space people use with their level of personal power. The text below explores four common ways women unconsciously self-sabotage.
- Most Men Use Space to Their Advantage and Most Women Don’t
It is not only in the zoo that alpha males command the most space and preside over groups they rule. If a single person in a meeting room has their hands behind their head or their feet on the desk, they are likely to be male. If they are not already the group leader, they almost always aspire to manage the group. Men tend to own more space at a work conference table and in the board room. Men usually spread out their computers and papers and shove their coffee cups to the side, while extending their elbows and knees at wide, comfortable angles.
Women are more likely to minimize their use of space. The posture of a woman sitting with men at the same conference table often looks like she is shrinking in on herself. Instead of a relaxed, erect posture, she may scrunch up and hold her elbows and knees in tightly. It is typical for a woman to neatly place her paperwork directly in front of her seat. Her coffee cup is in front of her, as if an imaginary line marks her limited territory. In a mixed social group of business men and women, men are generally comfortable sitting in the inner circle while women hold back and stand just outside the circumference of the circle.
- Women’s Posture is More Likely Than Men’s to Portray a Second-Class Status Image
The above is just one of many ways women tend to adopt body language that portrays a second-class status or less power than men. Other examples include a woman holding her head slightly down and avoiding direct eye contact out of deference or because she fears breaking an unwritten rule not to sustain eye contact more than seven seconds so someone doesn’t accuse her of staring at them.
Women often stand or sit with rounded shoulders instead of relaxing their shoulders and lifting their chest for deep breathing. People who slouch or fail to stand and sit with an erect posture portray an image that promotes the assumption that they are inferior in some way.
- Most Women Self-Sabotage Regarding Space Use and Mannerisms During Networking Events
At most networking events, most men cover significantly more space than women, connecting with more people and feeling free to initiate and end conversations at will. Quite literally, most men own their space.
Men also don’t usually trap themselves by trying to be nice. Women at these events are sometimes hesitant to introduce themselves to someone they haven’t met before. Female attendees almost always use less space in the room where a networking function occurs. Women also tend to self-sabotage by smiling and nodding more than normal or essential, trying to ensure a connection. (I discuss more common self-defeating body language patterns in a different article in this series.)
- Differences Between Male and Female Styles of Gesturing Can Contribute to Lower Influence, Status and Authority for Women
Differences between the body language and posture of people perceived to be higher and lower status can be dramatic. People perceived to be in higher status positions tend to have more open and expansive postures and gestures. Because of how we are hardwired, most people who feel lower status are comfortable with only a limited amount of eye contact with a person of higher status.
All of this is critical because the degree to which someone can continue speaking or be talked over is determined by their perceived status. In a group meeting, people spend more time looking at the face of the high-status person and pay far less attention to the lower-status person.
Women Have an Innate Power to Consciously Change All of This
Like a proud alpha male in the zoo, when a woman adopts a powerful posture, she can spontaneously receive respect from the rest of her tribe (other humans in the workplace). Standing tall, with an upright spine, uplifted chest and shoulders back is a power position that can creates triple benefits for you, as explained below.
Some of my other articles address common confidence issues of emerging women leaders, new business owners and other women leaders.
Powerful, Influential Women Know How to Use All Communication Channels
Because other people are constantly searching for signals regarding how to evaluate you, how you occupy territory includes how you walk toward someone you want to engage and how you enter the stage when you’re about to give a presentation. If you fail to appear eager to move forward and make a sincere connection with your audience, most people will assume you lack confidence or enthusiasm.
We know from a groundbreaking UCLA study by Albert Mehrabian that your listeners will evaluate you more on body language (55%) than on the words you use (7%) when you speak to them or your tone of voice (38%). Why is this so important to you?
This means it’s essential to consistently and confidently use all possible communication channels. These vehicles include powerful nonverbal tools such as appropriate gestures, posture, physical proximity to your audience, body positioning and head movements. All of this will dramatically elevate your confidence to be assertive and own your power in challenging situations, which is closely related to the amount of respect you receive.
Body Language Can Elevate Influence and Authority and Avoid Confrontation
In addition to modifying your posture, gestures and other aspects of your body language, you can often change perceptions of your authority and ensure that your voice is heard by shifting the location of your body in your environment. First, notice where people in power positions tend to sit. A common example is at the end of a conference table. If the table is not too long to defeat your purpose, you can choose to sit at the opposite end of the table (another power position) or next to the person at the end of the table who is perceived to be most influential.
Although changing where you sit is often a subtle change, research indicates it can produce a significant shift regarding how authoritative your voice is perceived to be and how much status you have in an organization. If other people have been claiming the seat you want for some time, you’ll probably have to arrive at the meeting earlier than normal. One of my Women’s Leadership Coaching clients was surprised by resistance when she decided to sit in a different location. When you read the two-paragraph summary of a case study below, notice how my client used body language to empower herself without having to say a word or be confrontational.
A Case Study Illustrates a Woman Business Leader Using Body Language to Enhance Authority and Influence
“A guy who normally saunters into meetings at the last minute wandered into our team meeting late. His commanding presence usually reminds me of a general. He was shocked to see me sitting in what he thought was his seat. He had clearly expected his customary chair to be empty, just waiting for him, even though he arrived late. I think he assumed that I’d just get up and sit on the sideline, even though he had no legitimate claim to the throne because we’re equal team players. I felt like Rosa Parks riding on the bus, but I smiled slightly and stayed put. I was surprised how compassionate I felt toward this man who needed to wear a bully suit. He was acting aggressive because he felt insecure.”
“This single act of courage created more respect from my team than some of my best comments in meetings. Apparently, everyone was watching to see what would happen, even though nothing was said while our little drama took place. Even though I wish I’d felt confident enough to do this years ago when encountering good-old-boy dramas at work, I know I’ll never again put up with being treated like a second-class player. This shows two things I’ve recently learned in Women’s Business Leadership Coaching. (1) Even a small change, using my body language, can produce a big positive result. (2) When I stay in my feminine self (compassionate, in this example) instead of thinking I have to be aggressive like guys often act, I get the best results. What a relief to discover that My Authentic Self actually gains the best results!”
Of course, Dear Reader, sometimes it’s essential for you to be vocally assertive when you’re treated inappropriately or your legitimate authority is questioned. In fact, I’ve helped some of you discover how to report serious power inequities and gain positive results. I selected this true Women’s Leadership Coaching client story to share with you for several reasons.
Gain New Tools Now to Elevate YOUR Professional Authority and Influence
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© 2019 Doris Helge, Ph.D. as interviewed on “The Today Show,” CNN and NPR. Certified Master Leadership and Executive Coach Doris Helge is author of bestselling books, including “Joy on the Job,” Doris has helped hundreds of leaders like you meet every challenge you’re facing. Click here to sign up to receive more examples of solutions to women’s leadership dilemmas and take advantage of a complimentary Leadership Coaching Consultation.