Women in the Workplace: Is Your Body Language Undermining Your Words?

The good news is that more and more women are speaking up and taking the lead in the workplace. However, the bad news is that in many cases, their body language is contradicting or undermining their message. According to experts, body language comprises 55 percent of communication. And when combined with tone, the proportion jumps to over 90 percent. So yes, while what people say obviously still matters, it’s not nearly as influential as how they say it; or more precisely, how their body is saying it.

If you have the sneaking suspicion that your body language is not always (or often) aligned with your words — and trust me, you aren’t alone since many people have very little body awareness when speaking; especially when they’re emotionally-charged — then here are three new rules to communicate by:

Claim Your Territory

Do you subtly cower when you’re delivering a presentation, attending a meeting, or engaged in formal or informal collaboration at work? Shrinking your physical presence (e.g. tucking your arms into your chair) conveys the message that you’re anxious and nervous. And even if you frankly feel this way — after all, delivering a presentation can be nerve-wracking sometimes — by repositioning your body, you’ll start to feel stronger and more confident. Try it and see.

Eliminate the Kitchen Sink

Are you one of those people who wander around the office with the proverbial kitchen sink in tow — e.g. a purse, a coat, a briefcase, a laptop bag, and so on? Well, while it may be hard to part with these longtime companions, you need to do so — because carrying around lots of stuff conveys the message that you’re disorganized; even if the exact opposite is the case.

Of course, you can still carry multiple bags or items on occasion. For example, if you’re done for the day, don’t feel obligated to carry out one item to your car at a time — first your purse, then your briefcase, then your laptop bag, then your coat, and so on. Rather, it simply means that your general mode should be to carry around one item. It’ll take some getting used to and you won’t have everything at your disposal. But if it dials up your influence and confidence in the workplace, then it’s a profitable trade-off.

Cross and Uncross Your Arms with a Purpose

You may believe that your motivation to cross and uncross your arms is driven by whether you’re feeling energized or tired, or whether the room is warm or chilly. And while this is part of the story, an even bigger factor is likely how you feel — consciously and subconsciously — about the people who you’re with. An open-armed posture conveys the message that you’re in the presence of someone who you like and feel positively towards. Crossing your arms conveys the message that you dislike someone, or that you’re indifferent to their presence.

This doesn’t mean that you should never, ever cross your arms — sometimes crossing your arms simply feels good! However, it’s to your advantage to keep in mind the message that you’re sending via an open-armed posture vs. cross-armed. You can also keep this in mind when you’re on the receiving end of someone’s open-armed or cross-armed body language.

The Bottom Line

As noted, body language is a big part of communication. But this doesn’t mean you should become hyper-conscious of your body to the point that you can’t focus on anything else — like giving the person or people you’re communicating with your attention. Just start paying attention to what your body is doing as you interact with people and deal with situations. At first, you’ll be surprised — and probably amazed — at how quickly and rapidly your body grasps and reacts to how you truly feel.

Over time, you’ll become fluent in your body language, and can align your stance and presence with your words and tone. When all of these tumblers fall into line, you’ll experience a whole new level of influence and confidence at work — and everywhere else, too.

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