In Pictures: Seven Common Body Language Mistakes

16 Nov
A picture is worth 1,000 words: No matter how illustrious our resumes, how brilliant our ideas, how Calvinist our work ethic, we are judged by how we present ourselves–particularly as women. Here are seven common body-language mistakes that trip women up in the workplace.
 
Minimizing Yourself 
 
Women tend to go out of their way to make themselves smaller. They keep their legs and hands together, slouch and sit back in their chairs. “In program photos for corporate events, if there are 20 or 30 people, a woman will always say ‘I’ll crouch down in front,'” says Carol Kinsey Goman, executive coach and author of The Nonverbal Advantage. “A man won’t do that. By minimizing yourself, you are communicating that you are diminutive or submissive.” 
 
Smiling Too Much

While smiling is a wonderful way to make others feel comfortable, women tend to overdo it. Often, women will smile to take the edge off the negative, such as criticism or a reprimand. “The most important thing to keep in mind is congruence–that what you say and what your body looks like are aligned,” says Kinsey Goman. “Incongruence will throw people.” MRI scans have shown that when someone is smiled at, the brain lights up as if she has received a reward–if you smile while you are castigating someone, they might not even realize they are in trouble–and therefore won’t take you seriously. 

Weak Handshake

A handshake communicates one of three things to the person with whom you are shaking, says Carey O’Donnell, president of Carey O’Donnell Public Relations Group: (1) This person is trying to dominate me, (2) I can dominate this person and (3) I feel comfortable with this person. You want to aim for option three, but most women tend to fall into No. 2–the wet fish. “In a handshake, the dominant person turns their palm down, while the more submissive person shakes with the palm facing up,” she says. Aim for a straight up and down, firm handshake. 

The Partial-Arm Cross

Many women stand with one arm crossed, hugging the other hanging by her side. Don’t do it. “This is a frequent female position, and it demonstrates anxiety and low self-confidence,” warns O’Donnell. The arm cross is seen as a partial hug, a comforting position that indicates the person is trying to soothe nerves. 

Touching Hair, Face or Jewelry

At best, playing with one’s hair, twirling a piece of jewelry or touching one’s face can be read as a lack a confidence; at worst, as out-and-out flirting. “Studies have shown that women who flirt get less of a raise and have less power to negotiate [deals],” says Kinsey Goman. “They might want to take you out to dinner, but they won’t respect you.” 

The Head Tilt

The head tilt is an ancient sign of listening, yet it is often seen in the workplace as a sign of agreement. It also can be misconstrued as acquiescence or flirting. Kinsey Goman recommends practicing saying something with your head tilted and then straight in front on the mirror–you will notice how much authoritative you’ll appear when your head isn’t cocked to one side. 

Inappropriate Clothes

Our body movements aren’t the only things sending silent signals to our co-workers, bosses or clients. Low-cut shirts, short skirts, too much makeup and even overwhelming perfume can give the message that you are not to be taken seriously. “You see a female CEO interviewed on TV, and the first thing [pundits] comment on is what she’s wearing,” says Catherine Kaputa, executive coach and author of The Female Brand. Kaputa recommends looking at women in high positions at work or on TV–she cites Nancy Pelosi as an example–and emulating the way they dress and carry themselves.

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