Body Language Tips for Women: How to Look as Powerful as You Feel

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Convinced you can conquer the world? Great, here’s how to make sure your body language is communicating that confidence.

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

When Sheryl Sandberg decided to title her book Lean In, she obviously had a larger metaphorical meaning of the phrase in mind than simply inclining your body forward. But, she also insists, that’s a good place to start.

Among the first videos up on the companion site to the book instructs women in the finer points of powerful body language.

Such tips may feel simplistic or unfair (really, I have to be self-conscious about where I put my hands now?) reports Lisa Belkin on HuffPo, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work:

Early descriptions of those videos have brought mockery, with some critics suggesting that giving women a tip to stand like Wonder Woman — hands on hips, chest proudly forward, feet planted hip-width apart — is sexist, or at least simplistic. Deborah Gruenfeld, one of the Stanford professors in the videos, responds that it’s neither: It’s science.

So with research telling us both that most of what gets communicated, gets communicated nonverbally, and that it is possible to break down what sorts of gestures communicate what sort of messages, what essentials do female entrepreneurs need to know about this science? You may already feel like you have a good a shot at conquering the world as anyone, but how do you communicate this to others?

There are plenty of resources out there to help. Also on HuffPo, Karen S. Exkorn offers tips on how to use your body language to get what you want, while over on Business Insider, Meredith Lepore of Levo League offers eight mistakes to avoid from Dr. Carol Kinsey Gorman, author of The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead, including:

Using too many head tilts. There was a great episode of Friends where Phoebe and Monica tilted their head as they asked the just divorced Dr. Richard Burke how he was. He said well you clearly heard about my divorce because they tilted their head when they asked. The head tilt signified that they were sympathetic and really trying to be listening and involved. Carol also points out that this is a particularly feminine gesture. She said, “As such, head tilts can be very positive cues, but they are also subconsciously processed as submission signals.

TIP: Use head tilts when you want to demonstrate your concern for and interest in members of your team or when you want to encourage people to expand on what they are saying. But when you need to project power and authority, you should keep your head straight up in a more neutral position.

Physically condensing. Carol says women tend to condense their bodies, keeping their elbows to their sides, tightly crossing their legs, stacking their materials in small, neat piles, and contracting their bodies to take up as little space as possible. She points out that high status males do the opposite. We would probably never see Donald Trump trying to make sure his work area was super neat. Men tend to expand into available space and take up room.

TIP: Carol says, “Remember that status and authority are nonverbally demonstrated through height and space. So stand tall, pull your shoulders back, widen your stance, and hold your head held high.” Goman is not saying to stretch and put your feet up but to sit up, widen your stance and take your stuff and spread it all over the table like a dog marking its turf.

Check out all these resources for many more suggestions.

Women 2.0 readers:  If you pay special attention to your body language, what do you focus on?

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @entrylevelrebel.

Photo credit: expertinfantry on Flickr