Women, What Does Your Body Language Say?
I’m twirling my hair as I think of how to start this post. My ankles are crossed and I’m sitting at my desk, head tilted. I’m an expressive person and tend to talk with my hands. I like to look people directly in the eye when they’re talking to me.
Each of those actions are non-verbal but can communicate a lot about me and who I am. This can be shown through hand gestures, eyebrow movements, laughter, activity or inactivity, words or silence. They all have a message.
Albert Mehrabian, Psychology professor at UCLA coined the “7%-38%-55%” rule: Effective personal communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% content of the words you use.” Other studies show that non verbal communication is responsible for anywhere from 50-70% of communication, which obviously asserts how important our actions (not words) are.
Specifically with women in the workspace, Forbes has an interesting article citing some of the visual ticks common to women.
–Tilting your head–a sign of listening that can be misinterpreted as one of submission or even flirting.
–Folding your hands on your lap–hiding your hands under a conference table or desk, for example, signals untrustworthiness; a cue from ancient times, when men would reveal their palms to show they were unarmed.
–Crossing your legs–a sign of resistance.
–Excessive smiling–an indication that you lack gravitas and seriousness.
–Folding your arms in front of you–translates to insecurity or defensiveness.
–Playing with or tugging at your hair, jewelry or clothes–can signal distress or, again, be misinterpreted as flirting.
Some of these make me mad that our society translates playing with my hair as flirtatious, but then again, it’s not the most authoritative or confident form of communication. Women in general are more expressive than men.
Carol Kinsey Goman, an executive coach and author of The Nonverbal Advantage highlights particular instances when women look submissive: “In program photos for corporate events, if there are 20 or 30 people, a woman will always say ‘I’ll crouch down in front.’ A man won’t do that. By minimizing yourself, you are communicating that you are diminutive or submissive.” I see the point here, but I have to disagree because I’m very short so I often go in front or crouch down due to practicality. I’m not at all submissive. What do you think?
Regardless, as a businesswomen and young professional I continually grapple with the idea that we have to transform ourselves in order to get ahead. I believe in evolution, learning and personal growth towards success but not completely changing who you are. There’s a fine line between sacrifice and focusing on constructive growth so I firmly believe in maintaining self awareness and not compromising yourself.
I wouldn’t call myself a feminist. I would call myself a proud, independent woman. I will be myself but part of working amongst men, especially in a field where men are dominant I pay attention to my words and communication skills, which means my non verbal cues are important to understand as well. To better understand how you act and understand nonverbal cues try this test from University of California, Santa Cruz: Exploring Nonverbal Communication.
Theresa Zagnoli, founder and CEO of Zagnoli McEvoy Foley, a communication and litigation consulting firm seems to agree with my thoughts in not conforming but still growing. When mirroring, mimicking and suppressing bad habits or impulses it “doesn’t change who you are. It doesn’t change your heart, what is in your head, your ideas. In fact, changing how you carry yourself allows us to communicate those thoughts and feelings more fully…”
What sort of non verbal cues have you found offensive that affect women in the workplace? What have you noticed from non verbal cues in your everyday life?