Business of Men

5 body language mistakes women leaders often make


Studies show that while male and female business leaders are expected to, and do, produce the same behaviour and outcomes, they are perceived very differently, with women being appraised far more on the strength of their body language. This results in women being judged quite harshly for actions that would pass unnoticed when performed by a male counterpart.

What do people perceive from body language?

In conjunction with judging a leader’s behaviour, output and measurable success, an observer will also look for signs of influence or authority, as well as warmth. While authority is assessed via signs of status, power and integrity, warmth is measured through perception of consideration, empathy and likeability. The balance of these two main qualities is expected to be different in men and women, with a female leader sometimes being perceived as being overly aggressive and even power-hungry or disingenuous when she possesses the same balance of authority and warmth as a male in the same position. For this reason, women should be aware of the messages they send with their body language, particularly five common errors they may unwittingly be making.

1. Tilting the head

Head tilting is a very common indicator that someone is listening intently and is far more common in women than in men. However, it is also widely and accurately perceived as a sign of submission, signalling that the submissive person is making an effort to be physically as well as socially lower than the dominant character. Therefore, if a female leader falls into the habit of head tilting while listening, she can subconsciously be suggesting to observers that she lacks authority. Try to keep head tilting to a minimum, without adopting a stiff and forbidding posture.

2. Being too animated

Nonverbal communication is important and is responsible for a little over 50 per cent of people’s understanding. It includes hand gestures, facial expressions, body position and movement; it is easily misinterpreted, particularly if there is an excessive amount of movement and arm and hand gesturing. Again, the impression given by someone, particularly a woman, being too physically expressive is of a lack of control and, therefore, of possessing less authority. Minimise the amount of movement to give an air of calmness and control.

3. Self-comforting

Many small movements, such as playing with your hair, touching your face or neck or hugging yourself occur when a difficult situation arises and are both an act of self-comfort and intended to calm others nearby. Studies have shown that these movements echo actions taken by a mother with an upset child and can be used to diffuse a situation somewhat, but will also be perceived as too ‘feminine’. Keep your hands relatively still, actively positioning them away from your face and hair when these situations arise.

4. Minimising space

Size matters. Not how big you are, because that’s beyond your control, but in terms of the percentage of space you take up with your posture and possessions. While the ungainly ‘manspreading’ is never a good idea, even for men, the inverse posture of keeping your arms tightly into your body and being as small as possible is also unadvisable. In a meeting, spread out your notes and whatever you’re using and allow yourself a comfortable space to use your arms freely.

5. Giving a weak handshake

Men and women are judged equally by the strength and confidence of their handshake, but women are more likely to possess a gentler handshake purely because of their physicality. A businesslike handshake should be firm, brief and accompanied by confident and steady eye contact. It’s worth rehearsing this to get the balance right as it is such a common occurrence in the corporate sphere.

Female leaders are as competent as their male counterparts. This has been proven by the data time and again, but perception can override data on a daily basis. For this reason, it’s important for women in all positions to consider this important aspect of their work life. If a modicum of physical control can be the difference between colleagues and employees having misgivings or confidence, it’s worth making that extra effort.

About Cindy Parker

Cindy Parker is the professional writer and Content Specialist. She loves to write about small businesses, education and languages. Currently, she works for Learn to trade - a currency trading education company.

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