At the core of strong leadership is the ability to communicate effectively. And while much focus is placed on verbal communication skills, it is often the nonverbal messages - sent through facial expressions, body movements, and gestures - that have a greater impact.
Understanding how to read and use body language to communicate can help women business leaders, in particular, establish their positions of authority and prevent feeling constrained by gender stereotypes. Certain nonverbal cues can come more naturally than others, but like verbal communication, nonverbal messages can be controlled by the individual. A common stereotype of women is that they are more expressive with their faces, having been encouraged to smile and nod as young children more than their male counterparts. In business settings, excessive smiling can signify nervousness or submissiveness, neither of which is a desirable leadership trait. By understanding the impact of body language cues like smiling, women business leaders can learn how to communicate in a way that enhances - rather than detracts from - their messages.
In her book The Silent Language of Leaders, Carol Kinsey Gorman suggests a few body language tips for female leaders who want to debunk stereotypes and exude a more authoritative demeanor. These include:1. Claim your space
The physical differences between men and women can create a false sense of inferiority in the shorter gender. Women can make up for the height difference by standing up straight, standing up when presenting, and broadening their stance.2. Straighten your head
Head tilting can occur when listening and showing empathy, both stereotypical strengths of women. But did you know that head tilting is a universal sign of submission? By holding your head in an erect position, you can project confidence and authority.
3. Employ a firm handshake
Women tend to be less physically assertive. A strong, firm handshake signals a confident and business-like approach that most employees desire in their leaders.
While these tips will obviously not apply to all women leaders, thinking about how gender stereotypes can impact your use of body language can help you lead your organization with more awareness and understanding.
Finally, it is also important for all business leaders to consider the differences in body language expectations across various cultures. For example, while one might interpret holding your hand over your mouth while burping as being rude in some American homes, it is a nice gesture to the host of a dinner party in China. And while Americans nod their heads to signify "yes," in India, rocking the head from side to side means "yes," and Bulgarians shake their heads to mean "yes" rather than "no."
Understanding the impact of both gender and culture on body language can be an important tool for successfully managing a diverse workforce and strengthening relationships with international business partners.