At an administrative assistant gathering recently, one admin pro talked about how uncomfortable she felt drawing attention to herself.
It’s not unusual among women: Girls are taught to sit up straight, mind their manners and not to brag.
But these are the habits that can hold you back professionally. All it takes is a single twirl of your hair to send a negative message, no matter how brilliant your ideas or rigorous your work ethic.
“Many of us have no idea that our nonverbal cues are making an impact,” says Carey O’Donnell, president of Carey O’Donnell Public Relations Group. “There are thousands of microexpressions, and people are reading these, even if they are only subconsciously translating these cues.”
You have just four minutes to make a first impression, and, according to a widely cited study by UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian, body language accounts for 55% of that impression (38% comes from tone of voice; the remaining 7% from our actual words).
Five other negative microexpressions common to women:
1. Tilting your head. You do it to show you’re listening, but it sends a signal of submission or even flirting.
2. Folding your hands on your lap. Hiding your hands under a table or desk signals untrustworthiness.
3. Excessive smiling. Too much of it indicates a lack of seriousness.
4. Folding your arms in front of you translates to insecurity or defensiveness.
5. Playing with or tugging at your hair, jewelry or clothes. It’s a sure sign that you’re feeling uncomfortable or, worse, can be misinterpreted as flirting.
Your job? To take control over how people view you. O’Donnell recommends videotaping yourself and then watching without sound. “When we see ourselves in pictures, or especially on TV, we often say, ‘Who in God’s name is that?’” she says with a laugh.
“When you watch yourself without sound, pay attention to visual cues—are you waving your hands frenetically, laughing inappropriately when no one else is laughing, looking around nervously? Then watch it a second time for voice tone and bridges [such as] ‘likes’ and ‘you knows’.”
Another trick, recommended by communication consultant Theresa Zagnoli, is to release nerves by scrunching your toes—an act that, unlike fiddling with your hair, will go unnoticed.
— Adapted from “Body Language Decoded,” Raquel Laneri, Forbes.