I love people-watching. It never fails to fascinate; perhaps it's my Meyers-Briggs personality combination, perhaps my obsession with Nancy Drew as a child. Whatever the reason, my penchant to go beneath the surface of people--to not just hear what they say, but why they say it--is woven into the fabric of my being. So I was thrilled when body language expert, Carol Kinsey Goman, author of the new book,The Truth About Lies in the Workplace, wrote a piece in our June/July issue on the secrets of body language for women to help them succeed in their careers.
Studies have found that thoughtfully reinforcing verbal dialogue with accurate non-verbal cues can carry a message farther, especially in the workplace. In fact, it makes more than four times the impact on first impressions than any words we say. So here are five quick tips from Goman’s free downloadable e-book, Body Language for Women Who Lead.
Vive la différence! Goman asserts that men and women speak different languages, especially non-verbally. This is important to accept as a starting point before trying to master your own personal body language style. While there is no right or wrong communication style, it is important to understand the environments where a woman’s feminine genius may have the advantage.
Women tend to excel in collaborative work environments where listening skills, inclusiveness, and empathy are key; whereas men are viewed as more successful in environments where a strong sense of decisiveness takes priority. Men typically approach people from the side, whereas women approach from the front. Men actively listen with a minimum of eye contact or verbal feedback--a poker face, so to speak--while women consider eye contact and nodding important response signals.
I whip my hair back and forth. When we ladies are nervous, we can resort to little tics and sometimes these undermine an assertive persona. Some examples are twirling our hair, smoothing it down, putting it behind our ears, running our hands through it--you get the idea. These are signs of preening commonly associated with courting behavior. Simply put, it can be distracting in the workplace. To avoid this communication pitfall, use a little hairspray to tame fly-aways, or plaster your hands to the desk and make an effort not to move them.
Don’t be a bobble-head. Think of that pet pooch you had as a child. When the pup is curious about something, he tilts his head to look at you. Women do that, too, and it may be cute, but according to Goman it’s also a sign of submission. When we tilt our head while listening to someone, we may convey compassion or receptivity; we can also convey weakness and may not be taken as seriously as a leader. So try to look straight ahead!
The eyes have it. How many times have you been in a crowded room and tried to talk to one person, only to see their eyes dart back and forth, looking for the next person to talk to? It’s inconsiderate, and frankly signals that the person is closed to your ideas. Avoid this pitfall by keeping a direct gaze, which conveys presence, confidence, and that we’ve showed up. To help you, consider intentionally trying to remember the person’s eye color.
Speak up or down? According to Goman, women commonly use five verbal tones when speaking compared to men’s three; we use them to convey our emotions, but also our thoughts. Often women end phrases on the up tone, almost as if we’re asking a question, when we’re actually making a statement. To ensure that our declarative statements remain assertive, Goman suggests, “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.”
Every work environment calls for different modus operandi, of course, but Goman’s tricks are helpful in gaining respect and nurturing productive working relationships. So why not tuck these little gems away and begin slowly implementing them while at work. Perhaps they can help take your management position to the next level, or help you nail that promotion you’ve been dreaming about. As Goman’s research shows, we can speak volumes without ever saying a word.