Effective communication in the workplace is of critical importance to your professional image, your contribution to the greater strategy of your company, being recognised for your efforts, and your subsequent advancements and promotions in your industry. Yet many women in the workplace sometimes inadvertently exhibit communication behaviours which subtly undermine how confident and knowledgeable they appear.
As a learning and development professional especially, your role is to foster and promote the talent of others while creating and executing training and support strategies company-wide. This involves dealing with a wide range of internal stakeholders, including the most senior members of staff, so portraying a confident and in control demeanour is key to having your ideas heard, respected, and enacted.
If you feel that you’d like to become a more confident communicator, especially in the workplace, we’ve compiled a list of tips and advice on using body language and speech habits that will emit strength and confidence, while earning the respect you’ve worked hard to deserve.
Avoid submissive body language
Body language is a very important part of communication, and it’s important to avoid certain stances, gestures or poses that can convey weaknesses. This is not to say that you’re doing something wrong intentionally – it’s quite the opposite. Some of these examples are things you may do every day and not even realise they’re being interpreted negatively.
- Crossing your legs while standing – this can come across as apologetic, namely for occupying the amount of space you’re currently taking up. Instead, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and your back straight. This displays ownership of your space and confidence.
- Clasping your hands – when you clasp your hands down low, also known as the ‘fig leaf’ position, it can be interpreted as a sign of you being unsure of yourself or lacking in confidence. Instead, work out what for you looks like an assertive “neutral” position i.e. a resting place for your hands when they’re not gesturing. For most people an assertive-looking neutral position is where the hands are resting together at about waist-height or above.This may feel strange initially but remember this is just a resting position for short periods of time. If in doubt ask someone to take photos of you using different neutral positions and see for yourself the difference this type of body language can make. Knowing what works for you as a neutral position will also be very useful for when you’re delivering presentations – More on what to do with your hands during a presentation in front of others.
Don’t use devaluing language when talking about your achievements
Statistically speaking, women are often quick to explain away their personal effort and achievements as either a result of a team (even when that’s not the case), or as something that wasn’t as difficult as it actually was. While this could be attributed to the desirable trait of modesty, it’s in fact doing you more harm than good. Another way to think of it is that you’re essentially saying “I’m not worth being rewarded; my effort and achievements aren’t that great”. Men on the other hand are generally more quick to accept responsibility and praise for their actions. Doing this once may not have immediate ramifications, but imagine what your boss thinks when you’re continually explaining away your value? Here are some phrases you should consider cutting from your vocabulary;
- “Sorry to bother you” – Don’t apologise unless you’ve really done something wrong. Your communication is important and necessary, so using this phrase may plant a negative seed in the mind of the person you’re speaking to, and sets the expectation that “this isn’t important so you probably don’t need to listen or action it properly”. In other words it can devalue your message before they’ve even heard it.
- “I’m just” – The word “just” needs to be extracted at every opportunity. It shows a lack of confidence and weakness, particularly when asking for something. While it can be a crutch to sound friendly, it often instead implies that what you’re asking is of low importance and/or that you’re unsure you should be asking for it in the first place.
- “I guess…” – Are you really guessing? Or are you speaking about something you actually know quite a lot about? We have a feeling it’s the latter. Saying “I guess this is the right thing to do” (for example) shows that not only is there little confidence in your own suggestion, but implies that you haven’t thought through it properly; if you’re guessing, then there’s probably little merit to your cause. Instead, use direct statements like, “I recommend this…” or “I believe this is the right course of action”.
- Collective language – Using collective language as we mentioned above can be detrimental to people interpreting your value. If it was truly a team effort, then of course mention it. If however, it really wasn’t, learn to say ‘Thank you’ and accept the praise you’ve earned.
Understand the power of compromise
While we’re adamant about displaying confidence and being sure of yourself, that doesn’t mean that people won’t disagree with you. Compromise is one of the most powerful weapons in negotiation as it displays a maturity to accept another school of thought and reach a solution that is acceptable to both parties. Adopting the “I must win every point” way of thinking is unreasonable and you will almost certainly fail in this endeavour. Confidently voicing your opinion in conversations and meetings, respecting the other opinions (regardless of gender), then having a mature discussion of how to resolve conflicts in thought is a sign of an excellent communicator, whether you’re male or female.
Communicating confidently as a woman in the workforce
This advice is part of a larger picture, and it’s important to note that this post is not about saying that the onus is on women to correct their “weaknesses” in their communication skills – it’s to help highlight to women that these are mostly subconscious behaviours that need to be addressed and changed in order to stop perpetuating actions that others could perceive as reinforcing negative gender stereotypes.
So next time you’re dealing with senior stakeholders, or engaging with your team, consider the above points and witness for yourself the positive impacts they can have in your workplace interactions. You may even find it beneficial to undertake some individual communication skills coaching in order to help you identify small mistakes you don’t even know you’re making.