Body Language Tips For Women Leaders
“A female boss and a male boss saying the same thing can be read very differently because people’s expectations of how that man or that woman will talk are different. This came to the fore in the 1980s when there were training programs for women where they were trying to help women be more assertive in the workplace. But this didn’t actually always go over well. It doesn’t mean women in the workplace can’t strategically get done what they need to get done because of course, they can. But given expectations, all of us will talk, and each of us will have to do it slightly differently, depending on the context, and whom we are talking to.”
Prof. Anne Curzan, How to Become Conversationally Aware
While the above quote might seem to belong to yesteryears, and we want to believe that we are moving towards gender equality, the very fact that there are special days and events to encourage women to step up and take ownership indicates that we have some time to go for this to happen. In companies that are aware of the huge contribution that having a balanced gender ratio can bring to the table, the HR plays a crucial role in encouraging more assertiveness in women, in enabling them to be ready to take up leadership roles, whenever the right opportunities arise.
I have worked on such programs firsthand, some dedicated especially to females and others where females have been active participants, and below are a few key takeaways. Since I focus on nonverbal communication, these takeaways would be along those lines.
- As is widely known, women are naturally better at reading body language than men. What comes to men with age and experience of handling human interactions is more easily visible to women. This means women can understand what a person is thinking, feeling, or intending by looking at their body language. Of course, the role each gender has played along the evolution has given females the natural advantage which is required for them to communicate with infants who can barely understand our spoken language.
- Although women can read body language accurately, they don’t always know what to do with this skill set, and how they can best maximize the use of this in the professional setup. The strategies that I need to discuss with them, once they are read a colleague’s body language, are often more elaborate. For example, a colleague might be feeling downcast, as his body language is suggesting. The female leader is able to understand this by observing him. Does this mean that she also has the inherent tact to deal with this emotion? Not necessarily. That skill might come with experience, or by deliberately sharing the techniques with them.
- The first impression bias which comes into play for senior leaders is irrespective of gender. To give perspective to this bias, for example, if the leader is looking to hire someone into a required role. She might have a particular mindset about what the personality of a person who “appears” in a certain manner would be like. This means she might let the first impression of the candidate be a deciding factor in making a decision to hire him or her. I often find the need to share ways to overcome the stereotyping issues in selections and conflict resolutions, both with male and female leaders.
Because of the above takeaways, while women should be encouraged to take on leadership roles, they might need to be given some handholding on issues they would face once they step into these roles. HR would play a crucial role here. So while we celebrate women’s day this year, let us resolve to equip our female colleagues with a capable skillset so that she can rise to the position that she truly deserves!
Would you like your female colleagues to be equipped to take up leadership positions? We have a signature program Shaping Business Women which discusses specific nonverbal strategies in a highly interactive manner through the workshop or on one formats.