Business and Career Articles To Help Executive and Business Women Succeed!
10 Body Language Mistakes Women Leaders Make
There are two sets of body language cues that followers look for in women leaders: warmth (empathy, likeability, caring) and authority (power, credibility, status). And, although the goal is a balance of both warmth and authority, there are circumstances when one set of signals is the most effective (for example, encouraging collaboration requires more warmth signals from leaders). Although I know several leaders of both sexes who do not fit the stereotypes, I’ve also observed that gender differences in body language most often align with these two groupings. Women are seen as champions in the warmth and empathy arena, but often lose out with power and authority cues.
If a female wants to be perceived as powerful, credible, and confident, she has to be aware of the nonverbal signals she’s sending. There are a number of behaviors I’ve seen women unknowingly employ that reduce their authority by denoting vulnerability or submission. Based on information from "The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help -- or Hurt -- How You Lead," here are ten body language mistakes that women leaders commonly make.
The art and science of mirroring
My husband and his father were talking in the kitchen when I walked into the room. I’ll always remember that sight: they were sitting at the table, mirror images of one another. Both men were leaning back with their hands behind their heads and their elbows wide apart, and both had their legs loosely crossed. They were deeply engrossed in conversation—totally oblivious to the physical postures they had assumed. I didn’t have to overhear what they were saying to realize that (at that moment) father and son were in total rapport!
We all do it. It’s called limbic synchrony, and it’s hardwired into the human brain.
Babies do it even before birth; their heartbeats and body functions take on a rhythm that matches those of their mothers. As adults, we do it when we are talking with someone we like, are interested in, or agree with. We subconsciously switch our body posture to match that of the other person – mirroring that person’s nonverbal behavior and signaling that we are connected and engaged.
In Confucius’ teaching the ultimate duty for leaders is to utilize whatever power and authority they have to bring peace to the world
As a six year-old girl, I would sit on my great grandfather’s lap and make him guess who I was. His eye-sight was not brilliant but he could recognise faces without difficulties. It was a game we played. Instead of calling my name, he would say, “It is old man Wong and little girl White sitting on a rock.” He invented the little rhyme for my middle name and sang it out loud in great joy. Then he would tell me the moral stories passed on from generation to generation by the ancient Chinese masters. Since he passed away, I moved on with life and my career leaving his words behind.
One small nonverbal signal can change the dynamics of an entire business interaction
A female executive was having problems dealing with her male colleagues. "They like me, but they never take me seriously," she complained. "It's as if they think I'm flirting with them. Which I definitely am not!"
After watching her interact with various men on the senior management team, I saw the problem. She was trying to discuss work-related issues while using a "social gaze."
Here's what I mean . . .
For leadership training to be effective, it is important to: set the stage by making sure all participants understand the ultimate purpose of learning the skills.
Participants who come to business leadership training often ask, "Isn't this just that thing where you repeat what the other person is saying to you? That's what my boss does when she is trying to manipulate me. It drives me crazy. Does she think I'm stupid?" Like any skill, leadership skills like active listening, constructive confrontation (I-messages), and conflict resolution skills can be learned and used effectively or misused. The misuse can be either intentional or unintentional.
Deliberate misuse leads to a climate of distrust and fear, hardly the sort of workplace most leaders would view as desirable. In such a place, little real work gets done, petty conflict is everywhere, game-playing is rampant, and grievances are commonplace. These are the kinds of organizations where highly adversarial labor-management relations prevent the company from thriving. Any tool can be used badly. A knife can be used to injure, a car to haul stolen goods, a word to humiliate. That doesn't mean that the tool is no good. It is, rather, an indictment of the person abusing the tool.