Body language for women in business – 9 ways to look more confident
Whether you know it or not your body speaks about you without you having to open your mouth. It’s called body language or nonverbal behaviour and it can communicate a lot about your present state of mind or your level of self-confidence.
Just like we control what we say, we can control what our body says about us. It’s even more important for women in business who struggle with workplace biases.
9 ways women can use body language to look more confident in business situations:
1.Stop making yourself smaller
When we are growing up, we are taught that good girls don’t raise their voices, speak only when spoken to, sit quietly in one place and don’t bother anyone. Girls are expected to be invisible and take as less space as possible.
That’s what most grown women do: they make themselves smaller. Arms hanging on the side of the body, shoulders slouching, legs crossed.
Of course, you can’t do manspreading – it looks bad and it’s in poor taste to imitate men because you risk becoming a caricature of yourself.
Instead, you can do as follows:
- Extend the space you take up with your posture and possessions
- Straighten your back when sitting down
- Find a comfortable space for your elbows if you are sitting in a meeting
- Spread your notes on the table
2. Don’t over-nod
Women are generally supportive. They encourage their children and their spouse, other family members and friends. They are masters of active listening and show their empathy by nodding their heads in approval. Sometimes they over-nod to show support.
Over-nodding may be appropriate in family situations, but it’s inadvisable in business situations. So observe your body language and refrain from over-nodding.
If you’re talking to business partners, be sure to nod only when you really agree with someone, not by default.
3. Stop fake smiling
You don’t see parents asking their sons to smile and be nice, but you definitely see parents teaching their daughters to learn fake smiling early on. Women are used to hiding their true feelings and smiling even if they don’t feel like it.
In a business environment, your worth is not related to how much other people like you. You’ve been hired for your skills, creativity and work ethic. You are expected to deliver results and solutions, not being nice to everyone in the office.
You don’t go to the office to be nice and make friends.
You go to have an impact.
4. When nervous, refrain from self-comforting
When women are nervous, they tend to self-comfort by tucking their hair behind their ears, playing with a lock of hair, touching their face or adjusting their clothes.
These movements will be perceived as too feminine and they will take away from your professional power.
5. Give a firm handshake
Your appearance and looks generate the first impression while your handshake generates the second impression.
A firm handshake tells the other person that you are confident in your abilities and that you are well aware you deserve to be there.
You are as competent as your male counterpart so you need to convey this in your handshake. Your handshake should be firm, brief and accompanied by confident and steady eye contact.
6. Do the hand steeple
The hand steeple is when you prop up the fingers of one hand, with the finger of the other hand, to form a bridge. It’s a gesture of confidence and self-assuredness.
According to body language experts, “the steepler is someone that is confident, sometimes overconfident, genuine, authoritative, and particularly evaluative of others around him.”
Don’t use the hand steepling in team building because you could come off as arrogant. This gesture is effective if you already possess power or want others to think you do.
7. Keep head tilting to a minimum
The head tilt indicates sincere interest and curiosity.
Women and children tilt their heads to express admiration in a nonverbal way, to gain sympathy and protectiveness. It’s a posture which conveys vulnerability and submissiveness.
Try to keep the head tilting to a minimum so you don’t appear to lack authority or power.
8. Give an air of calmness and control
Women express themselves easily with words and gestures. They participate in conversations with a wide range of hand gestures, facial expressions, body position and movements. Among family and friends, women’s physical expressions are a way to connect and empathize.
In a business environment, an excessive amount of hand gesturing and body movement could be easily misinterpreted as a lack of control and people could have a hard time seeing you as a serious professional.
Give an air of calmness, control and allow people to take you seriously by keeping the amount of movement to a minimum.
9. Adopt the Wonder Woman pose
Wonder Woman is the symbol for a powerful woman. Remember her pose? Both feet standing firmly on the ground, chest out, straight back and hands resting confidently on the hips with the elbows flaring out.
The Wonder Woman pose is an expansive posture used to make the body appear larger and taking up more space. It’s the best posture to use before an important pitch to boost your confidence.
Research has found that expansive postures such as this one help boost testosterone and simultaneously lowers the stress hormone cortisol.
Adopt this stance when you want to take on a leadership role and you want your team to perceive you as confident and ready to get down to business.
Discover high-power poses that you can adopt to feel more confident and powerful in this talk given by social psychologist Amy Cuddy:
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5 Steps to Build your Self-Confidence if you’re a Woman
What is self-confidence?
Confidence can be described as a belief in one’s self and one’s ability to succeed. Striking a healthy balance between too much and too little confidence can be challenging. Too much and you can come off as cocky and stumble into unforeseen obstacles when you overestimate your own abilities or fail to complete projects on deadline because you underestimate the time and effort they require. At the same time, having too little confidence can prevent you from taking risks and seizing opportunities—in school, at work, in your social life, and beyond. Projecting just enough confidence helps you gain credibility, make a good lasting first impression, deal with pressure and meet personal and professional challenges head on.
The Hewlett-Packard study – 100% vs 60%
Several years ago Hewlett-Packard conducted an internal study that showed women applied for a job only when they believed they met 100% of the qualifications listed. But men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60% of the job requirements. As you can see, gender differences in confidence are quite dramatic.
Women underrate their performance
Professor Scott Taylor conducted a study at the University of New Mexico Anderson School of Management focused on how men and women rate their job performances. His team found that female managers are more than 3x as likely as men to underrate their bosses’ opinions of their job performance. On the other hand, the men slightly overestimated how their bosses would rate them.
Women underestimate their skills and abilities
As expected, women fail to estimate their skills and abilities correctly. Even when their results are close to those of men, women still believe they performed lower than the men.
Here are 5 steps to build your self-confidence if you are a woman:
1. Acknowledge that perfection is pure fiction
Perfection is pure fiction.
Through her nonprofit, Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani initiates young women into the tech world. Her goal is to bring one million women in computer science by 2020. In 2016, she delivered a great TEDx speech about girls: Teach girls about bravery, not perfection.
In her speech, she talks about how we as society raise boys to be brave and take risks while we teach girls to smile pretty, play it safe and behave. When talking about her students learning to code, Reshma told the audience that boys ask their professor for help with their code using these words: There’s something wrong with my code. Girls had a different approach – There’s something wrong with me.
Believing that you are worthy only when you are perfect is dangerous because perfection doesn’t exist. Perfection is a mental prison women lock themselves in. Women pass on opportunities because they believe they are not perfect for the task.
Women need to free themselves from the need to be perfect and become comfortable with doing the best they can and be happy about it.
2. Stop comparing yourself to others
We live in the world of social media. We look at our friends’ posts about fancy cars or fashionable clothes or travels to exotic places. It makes us feel poor or unhappy with our lives or less beautiful or fortunate. We compare ourselves to them and feel bad. Or we see someone’s struggle, pain or misfortune and feel good about ourselves because we are not the ones going through it.
It’s called social comparison and it may be downward or upward. Both comparisons can make us forget about a person’s strengths and limit our ability to empathize. Upward comparisons can make us feel envious and lower our self-esteem.
Don’t compare your beginning with someone else’s middle.
3. Become aware of your strengths
If you are reading this, take a piece of paper and write down 10 strengths in the next three minutes.
How many did you actually wrote? Three, five, seven?
When asked about other people’s strong points, most women can count at least a dozen effortlessly, but when asked about their own, they struggle to find a few if any at all.
When it comes to most women, self-love and self-knowledge is in short supply.
Women need to become aware of their strengths.
Instead of trying to work on your weaknesses, spend your energy and time on growing your innate skills, abilities and talents.
4. Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements
The impostor syndrome was first identified and described by psychologists in 1978. This syndrome causes people to doubt their achievements and fear that others will expose them as fraudulent.
Not being aware of your strengths is the first argument that fuels the emergence of this syndrome. Before you know it, self-doubt sets in and you begin to believe that you are unworthy of your current job, or promotion, or life.
What you need to do is remember you didn’t get to your current situation by chance.
Behind your achievements is a lot of hard work, constant development, ambition and perseverance. Your personal set of skills and abilities brings value to your employer.
5. Monitor your negative thoughts
Do you constantly think I’m not good enough, I won’t be able to perform, They won’t pick me, I will fail, I am a failure?
This is your self-talk speaking negative thoughts. Why is it that when we talk about a friend we find so many good and positive aspects, but when it comes to our own person, we are critical and judgemental?
The source of this judgemental inner talk could be our parents or teachers or society. Some may consider this thought as motivation to do better. But it’s not the case if it transforms into constant criticism and judgement.
If only we could treat ourselves with the same kindness and love we treat our best friends!