By Diane DiResta
Glass ceiling or partners in sabotage? While the glass ceiling exists, very often women undermine their success by how they communicate in the workplace. We’ve learned to dress for success but have we learned the language of success? When Catalyst, a non-profit organization dealing with women’s issues asked “What holds women back from top management?” fifty-two percent said “Male stereotyping and preconceptions of women.” When they asked “How can women succeed?” sixty-one percent said “Developing a style with which male managers are comfortable.” It seems communication style is vitally important. Here are ten ways women weaken their image and what can be done about it.
1. Too much head nodding
When women nod, they mean “I hear you,” “I understand.” Men interpret head nodding as agreement with their ideas. Too much head nodding will be perceived as weakness and may result in miscommunication. Men: When a woman nods her head during a conversation, clarify by asking “Do you agree?” Do not assume.
A rising inflection at the end of a sentence sounds tentative, as if posing a question. This is a real credibility killer. Women will not be taken seriously with this vocal pattern. Practice bringing the voice down at the end of a sentence to sound more authoritative. Men: This pattern is sometimes used by men in the South or by Generation X. It is not effective for either sex.
3. Weak Language Tag lines
Some communicators make a statement and then ask for validation. “This is a good idea, don’t you think?” “We have the best team, right?” Tag lines weaken conviction and authority. Eliminate them. Modifiers – words such as some, just, only, hopefully, and guess – minimize the message and the messenger. “This is just a thought,” “I’m only a beginner,” “Hopefully, I’ve done a good job,” “I guess I have a question,” are weak statements. They signal a lack of confidence and tell the listener that it is not very important. Constant apologizing is not appropriate and will have the same effect. Weed out wimpy words and replace them with powerful language. Men: Surprisingly, I have heard men use “wimpy words” in their sales presentations. It usually happens when they are about to ask for the business. This is the most important time to sound confident and full of conviction.
4. Allowing interruptions
Men jump in and say what they think. They tend to interrupt more than women. Women are more likely to allow themselves to be cut off and lose credit for their ideas. Instead, they can say, “I’m not finished,” “Please hold your questions,” “These interruptions break everyone’s train of thought” or continue talking and finish your point.
5. Not speaking up (Waiting to be called on)
In our business culture, people who don’t speak up are perceived as not knowing anything. Commit to making one contribution at every meeting. Some women wait to be called on or have difficulty taking the floor. It may be necessary to interrupt to have your say. Do it. You must be heard to be counted.
6. Dressing too sexy
A visual impression takes seven seconds or less. Clothing and appearance are a form of communication. Women who wear spiked heels, low cut blouses, heavy make-up, and micro-mini skirts are communicating sexual availability rather than career mobility. To succeed in the workplace, women must dress the part. You don’t have to sacrifice femininity, but don’t appear too flashy. To achieve advancement, dress one level above your present position. If you are a supervisor, dress like a manager. Men: Dress can sabotage a man’s success as well. Polyester suits, light socks that don’t match the suit, unpolished shoes with worn down heels can spell disaster. If you don’t know a plaid from a herring bone, hire an image consultant.
7. Too soft spoken
A soft voice indicates insecurity or lack of confidence. Breathe from the diaphragm and project the voice so that every person at the meeting can hear. If they have to strain to listen, they will tune you out. A speaker loses conviction when ideas are presented in a soft voice. Men: When giving formal presentations some men may mumble or not project their voices. This is usually a result of public speaking panic. Get some coaching.
8. Allowing others to take credit for ideas
A common complaint of women is that men take credit for their ideas. When this happens women must learn to speak up and claim their contributions. “Excuse me, I just said that a minute ago.” “How is that different from what I just proposed?” Do not sit quietly while someone intercepts your idea.
9. Weak Body posture
Cute gestures such as shrugging shoulders, not making direct eye contact, standing with one leg crossed in front, and a weak handshake will weaken one’s visual impact. Men naturally take up more space. Hold your ground. Stand tall and sit up straight. Act like you belong. You have a right to be there. Men: Slumping or weak posture can affect how men are perceived as well. Confidence means walking tall.
10. Avoiding public speaking
This is one of the biggest mistakes women can make in their careers. Men don’t have a glass ceiling. Public speaking is an opportunity for visibility and equal exposure. Confront your fear, get some coaching, and get out there and shine. Men: Fear of public speaking is the great equalizer. It knows no gender, no race, no age. Realize that nervous energy is needed in order to give a dynamic performance.