Body language is essential for creating the right impression in the workplace as the subconscious brain draws conclusions from every little piece of data that it sees, according to Fotini Iconomopoulos, a negotiation and communication expert.
“One of the things I find problematic for women is that they don’t physically take their seat at the table,” said Iconomopoulos. “So many women are doing what they think is the polite thing by giving other people a seat that is more prominent and visible. If you’re sitting out of the direct line of sight, you’re not in the right space for someone to see and acknowledge you,” she added.
Another issue that women may face in trying to present a strong presence is that they tend to be physically smaller than men.
“A lot of studies show that CEOs are disproportionately over six feet tall,” said Inconomopoulos. “We draw conclusions about people based on how much space they take up in a room.”
The way you sit or stand can have an impact on others around you, Inconomopoulos believes. Women can give the appearance of taking up more space through certain poses such as standing with hands on hips to convey authority, for example.
When trying to create a good impression at the start of an interview or at a client meeting, Iconomopoulos advises women to make sure they are standing, ready to greet the other person.
“When I used to go to client meetings with big companies I would wait, standing with coat in hand and my phone away so I wasn’t scrambling to stand up when the time came to shake hands,” she said. “That first impression is so important.”
We tend to mirror the behaviour of others around us, so Iconomopoulos likes to take an open stance if trying to overcome conflict.
“If I’m trying to build trust, I make sure my hands are open because that signals openness and trust,” she explained. “It’s critical to signal that I want to work together rather than continuing down this path of conflict.”
“Remember that context is everything,” Inconomopoulos cautioned. “Don’t jump to conclusions about someone else’s mindset. It’s the impression they are getting of you that matters. Not what you think of them.”
Iconomopoulos runs Toronto-based Forward Focusing, through which she empowers Fortune 500 executives and their teams to achieve their objectives through her knowledge of negotiation, communication, and persuasion.