Posted by Liz Seasholtz on May 9, 2011
Sixty-eight years ago, Rosie the Riveter was introduced as a woman to be reckoned with. Since then, women have progressively become a stronger and more influential force within the American labor market. And in 2010, women are poised to break the 50-percent threshold and become the majority of the American workforce.
But even as women continue to gain momentum in the workplace, some still lack the confidence needed to assert themselves, gain respect, and earn leadership positions. “Women are always striving to be perfect, and in doing so, they come off as unconfident,” says Gail Evans, former executive VP at CNN and author of Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman.
If you’re a woman, take note of the following speech, body language, and wardrobe habits that can weaken your message and undermine your professional goals.
When you speak, don’t preface your statements with conditional phrases, which soften your point, and makes you sound unsure of your idea. Phrases such as, “You may have thought of this…” or “This may sound silly, but…” are niceties that signal you’re unsure of yourself.
Women tend to apologize habitually, even when they’re not to blame and there’s no need for them to excuse their actions. “I'm sorry” becomes a verbal placeholder or a shorthand phrase for something else, such as “May I have your attention?” or “I don't agree.” Apologizing unnecessarily weakens what you’re saying and makes you look unconfident.
Phyllis Mindell, author of How to Say It for Women, says the way women intone their sentences often makes a statement sound like a question. “It sounds like you are questioning yourself, and if you’re questioning yourself, how can the audience be sure you’re right?” says Mindell. By dropping your voice at the end of a sentence, rather than swinging up in pitch, you will sound more self-assured.
Maintaining good eye contact is the quickest way to gain someone’s attention. If you sustain consistent eye contact, your audience will take what you’re saying seriously. By constantly breaking eye contact or not making it in the first place, you look uncertain and uncomfortable.
How you carry yourself says a lot about you. Do you stand straight, shoulders back, stomach in like your mother taught you? Or do you hunch? Women have a tendency to shrivel up, shoulders in, making them seem diminutive and frail. By having good posture when you sit or stand, you own your space. Mindell advises that when standing, you firmly plant your feet 6 to 8 inches apart for good balance. When sitting, rest your arms on the arms of the chair, so you’re “owning” the chair and sitting tall.
Women tend to fidget: adjusting skirts, twisting necklaces, or twirling hair. Some of these are nervous habits, but others go back to the quest for perfectionism. “When women fidget, it says they are uncomfortable with the situation,” says Evans. It will take a level of self-monitoring, but strive to be still and composed in business meetings or conversations.
Unprofessional Clothing, Hair, and Make-up
Like it or not, colleagues will start forming an opinion of you the moment they see you. Evans says the quickest way to establish who you are is to have an outward appearance that communicates confidence. First, always dress like a true professional. If you’re underdressed or disheveled, coworkers will assume you’re incompetent and you’ll quickly lose respect. Second, don’t show up in anything you’d where to a nightclub—which means no leopard tube dress or dark, seductive eyeliner. Dressing overly sexy can make it appear as if you’re overcompensating for a lack of ability, and colleagues may doubt your judgment.