Women’s Workplace Body Language: Things To Avoid

Not being taken seriously in the workplace?  It’s a problem plenty of women have, all while being unable to exactly pinpoint what they’re doing wrong.  The reasons, of course, could be any of a thousand (or ten thousand even).  Sometimes, though, the culprit just might be in your body language.

Workplace body language, for the most part, is the vernacular of office politics.  It’s how you communicate those things that don’t get talked about in the open.  Actions and gestures let people know the kinds of things reports and statistics don’t quite show.

Increased awareness of how you stand, act and use other nonverbal signals can affect the way people perceive you in the office.  Ignoring how you communicate nonverbally can leave you committing the same mistakes over and over.  Pay attention and you give yourself a chance to  develop positive habits down the line.

Small, non-verbal signals, whether intentional or not, can easily send the wrong message about you.  Instead of coming across as a no-nonsense business professional, your body language might be signaling something else that’s causing your colleagues to perceive otherwise.

What kinds of body language mistakes are we talking about?

  1. Gazing down their face.  Imagine a triangle on someone’s face.  Use the eyes as the base and the middle of the forehead as the apex.  That’s where you should look in the workplace — it’s how people tell you’re being serious.  Now, imagine an inverted triangle using the eyes as the base and the mouth as the apex.  That’s where people look at each other when they’re flirting.  If you’ve been gazing at people in the office through that inverted triangle instead of the first one, then you’re giving off unprofessional flirting signals.  It could be why no one’s taking you seriously.
  2. Tilting your head too much.  When you’re listening to someone speak, it’s not uncommon to tilt your head (this is especially true with women).  However, use it sparingly in the office.  Doing it too much gives the signal that you’re submissive (hence, not a serious “player”).  Instead, project power and authority by keeping your head straight up most of the time.
  3. Smiling too much.  I know, that self-help book you read said you should smile all the time because people love it.  Well, that’s still good advice, but be wary of context.  When you’re talking about something serious, look serious.  When you’re talking with a client who’s angry, smiling will make it look like you’re not taking their issues seriously.  Remember: smiling is good, but keep it in its place.
  4. Nodding too much. Men nod to show agreement.  Women nod for the same reason, too.  However, women also nod to encourage someone to keep talking, to show empathy and a couple other reasons.  This can lead to some miscommunication, which will prove particularly troublesome during workplace interactions.
  5. Minimizing the space you take up.  Some women like to physically contract their bodies. That is, they put their elbows to their sides, cross their legs and keep their hands very close to their body.  When in the office, that’s easily taken as a sign that you don’t feel you deserve any power — otherwise, why won’t you take up as much space as you can?   Holding your body like this habitually will get you ignored at work, since that appears to be what you’re asking for (to not be noticed).
  6. Girlish behavior.  Plenty of girlish mannerisms — like twirling your hair, playing with jewelry and the like — aren’t viewed very positively in the workplace, especially if you’re expected to project an image of power and authority.  Avoid them as much as you can.
  7. Being flirty.  The above behavior will often be seen as either immature or flirty.  And neither is good.  Flirting in the workplace, in particular, is heavily frowned upon, even in many organizations that don’t have hard and fast rules about dating in the workplace.  Even subtle flirting can turn off people you interact with, especially when they’re serious about their business.
  8. High voice.  You know how your voice (we’re assuming you’re a girl, of course) will often rise at the end of sentences as if you’re asking a question?  That will be good if you were actually being inquisitive.  If you’re making a declarative statement, though, avoid that.  Practice ending your sentences on the same note as when you started, allowing your pitch to vary only in the middle.  This lets you come across as more authoritative, rather than unsure, in your statements.
  9. Speaking too soft.  There’s nothing wrong with speaking softly.  In many workplaces, though, you want to be adequately for people to really pay attention.  Practice your office speaking voice, working on both loudness and clarity.  It will help you in immense ways, especially if you’re managing people.
  10. Being too courteous.  This isn’t an isolated female problem, but a lot more women seem to be prone to it. While being courteous is fine in many situations, you want to show initiative by taking control more.  When you want to be heard, speak up.  If someone else is talking and you want to put in a word, don’t be afraid to interrupt.  Being too courteous can turn you mute, especially in an organization filled with strong personalities.
  11. Handshake that’s too delicate.  Whether it’s wrong or right, a lot of people will judge someone immediately depending on their handshake.  A strong handshake creates a positive impression, while a delicate one immediately paints you as passive and lacking in confidence.  Practice your business handshake — you’ll be doing it a lot throughout the course of your stay in the professional world.
  12. Gestures that are too animated.  A certain amount of animated gestures and movements can help your expressiveness.  Too much, though, and you can end up being regarded as the office clown.  When you want to inspire the troops or dampen bad news, that expressiveness can prove valuable.  When establishing your authority, however, you want to make minimal movements — the queen doesn’t exactly wiggle about when addressing her kingdom, after all.