Elizabethkuhnke's Blog

Women and Power

Posted on: October 7, 2010

Seven Degrees of Separation 

Without being aware of it, women consistently undermine themselves in the workplace. Subtle behaviours sabotage their chances for the corporate success they seek and deserve. 

The actions listed below are those that female executives probably would not be aware of if they weren’t pointed out. Simple changes in behaviour can make the difference between being perceived as powerful and in control and merely being part of the pack.

1.  Women do not fill their physical space.  Powerful people take up more space than those who question their ability.  It is not a matter of size; rather, it has to do with the way women hold themselves.  Visualise Superman or Wonder Women:  They stand with their hands on their hips and their legs apart. 

Solution:  Stand in the “Power Position” the strongest pose you can use.  Place your hands facing each other and steeple your fingers, so that your fingertips are just touching.  This forces your palms apart and whether you are sitting or standing your arms will take up more space.  This is a highly effective negotiating posture; watch CEOs, politicians and solicitors to see how they use the gesture.

2.  Women introduce themselves too soon.  For the first 7 seconds of meeting a person, no one pays attention to what is being said.  The visual message is the first to be received and is absorbed before the aural.  That helps explain why we often forget the names of people we’ve just met.  We were too busy taking in visual signals to pay attention to the words being spoken. 

Solution: When you first meet a person, engage them in conversation before giving your name. Talk about what you do, who you work for and any other topic of interest before saying who you are.  By then the person to whom you are speaking will have a reason to remember your name.

3.  Women nod when listening.  Men nod their heads to demonstrate agreement.  Women perform the same action to show that they are listening.  It is a sign of empathy and connectedness, rather than agreement.  Men often mistake this action, assuming that a woman is agreeing with what is being said, when what she is actually doing is just paying attention to what he is saying.

Solution:  Be aware of your behaviour.  If you disagree with what is being said, be sure to say so verbally.  This will avoid misunderstanding.

4.  Women tilt their heads when conversing. Note how women tend to tilt their heads when they speak. A tilted head indicates that the person is committed to what is being discussed.  It demonstrates an active listening style and is a sign of an empathetic communicator. This position deters from the strength of the communication and is a weak position from which to speak.

Solution:  Again, be aware of your behaviour.  Keep your head upright, evenly balanced on your neck.  Relax your shoulders, keeping your upper chest softly opened like a book.  This position will give you a look of authority and influence. 

5.  Women’s voices go up at the ends of sentences.  Because women’s natural instinct is to please, their voices tend to rise at the end of their sentences, giving the sense of asking a question or seeking approval rather than making a statement.  This explains why a woman’s suggestions may be given short shrift during business meetings.

Solution:  Consciously listen to your voice and work to develop your lower register.  Practice using a tape recorder.  A lower voice has more credibility, which is why 80 percent of commercial voice-overs are performed by men.  If you hear your voice going up at the ends of your sentences, repeat them, forcing the intonation to go down.

6.  Women fidget. According to behavioural studies, when men enter a conference room they make 12 major movements.  27 is the average for women.  While many of these involve getting settled in their seat, women will also make adjustments to their clothes, hair and jewellery.  Random, excessive movements indicate nervousness and will detract from your sense of authority.  You will be perceived as being weak and nervous.

Solution: Awareness, as always, is key.  Keep your movements purposeful and to a minimum.

7.  Women allow men to finish their sentences for them.  While no woman would want to acknowledge this, it is quite common for women to fade out at the end of a sentence, allowing men to pick up on what they were saying and finish the thought. Women will also allow themselves to be interrupted, while rarely interrupting another speaker.  Over time, these behaviours will lead to low self-esteem as others take advantage of the opportunity she has created for them to be heard.

Solution:  If co-workers insist on interrupting you, increase the volume of your voice and keep speaking.  If they continue to speak over you, put up one finger to indicate that you have not yet finished.  If that doesn’t produce the desired result, hold up your hand as if to say, “Stop!”  Or, you might say, “Excuse me, I hadn’t finished.”   Assertiveness shows that you are confident and aware of your rights.  While it sounds simple, it may be difficult to do at first.  The more you practice, however, the easier it will get.  And add to that, you’ll feel good about yourself, too!

For more information visit www.kuhnkecommunication.com

and…follow us on twitter! www.twitter.com/diamondpolisher

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