What women can do to increase their authority

A few years back, whilst working for a large IT corporation, I was invited to an annual Pow Wow that brought together the firm’s engineers and marketing professionals. The facilitator asked us to introduce ourselves and let the group know if we were a ‘techie’ or a ‘fluffy’. Not hard to work out which was which.

Authority is not something that is automatically granted. As a woman who works with competent executives, it’s important that I’m perceived as being credible and am taken seriously when I have something valuable to contribute.

Yet many women, myself included, often do things that undermine our own authority. Even when we are just as capable as the next person, our body language can let us down. Being married to one of the country’s top communications experts Nick Morgan, I’d have been remiss if I didn’t learn a thing or two about non-verbal communication and why it is so important in establishing trust and credibility. Here’s my top five recommendations for actions that you can take immediately to increase your authority, especially if you are a woman and know you should be getting more respect than you do.

1. Keep that head straight
Ok, I know it sounds trivial, but you watch your female colleagues and see how many of them tip their head to one side when they are talking. Imagine I’m telling you about a bad day at work and I say: “I just don’t know why they don’t take me seriously.” You might be sympathetic. Now imagine I say the same thing, but I’m tilting my head at a 45 degree angle. Now you understand why I might be coming across as a little insecure. The head tilt is a classic gesture that indicates that you are listening, waiting for a response, or giving up authority to someone else. It does not say “I’m in charge and feel completely confident.” Even if you do feel that way, that’s not the way you will be perceived if your head is at a tilt when you are speaking.

2. Don’t groom
Look fabulous, and have that gorgeous hairdo, just don’t play with it! Grooming – repetitive touches to the hair – might be just your attempt at getting an unruly lock out of the way, but people will perceive you as being self-conscious, or maybe even flirtatious. If you are giving an important speech or have a high-stakes meeting, don’t let your hair be the main attraction. Spray it or tie it back so you won’t be tempted to touch.

3. Watch that pelvic posture
High heels and a slim figure can cause you to jut out your pelvis. This sends out a subtle sexual signal — great for supermodels, but not for business women. To avoid being pelvic when you are standing, balance your weight evenly on both feet. When you are walking, lead the body from your heart, not from your hips.

4. Give your voice an authoritative arc
The unintended consequence of collaborative working environments is everyone ends up talking like everything is a question. Every sentence ends up on a high note and sound like this. “Hello? The meeting today will be about new product development? We’re going to be brainstorming new opportunities? This group is the best in the company? It’s going to be awesome?

When everything sounds like it is a question, no one knows whether you are stating a fact or asking for feedback. It’s ok to be emotional, you can get excited, raise your voice and vary your pitch. That makes you interesting to listen to and passionate about your topic. Just come down at the end of a sentence. Ending a sentence on a deeper tone makes it a declarative statement. No-one will argue with you. Your words will be treated as facts. “This meeting is about new product development.” FACT. “It’s going to be awesome.” FACT. Same words. Different tone. Nick calls this the authoritative arc. I love it, especially when I’m asking for a refund or room upgrade!

5. Check Your Wardrobe
When preparing for an important event, many people ask me “What should I wear?” You want to wear something you feel great in, however you don’t want your clothing to be distracting or restrict your movements. To be perceived as trustworthy, your body language has to be open. Stand in front of a mirror and open your arms out wide. Check and make sure your buttons don’t gape and that you are not revealing anything you don’t want to! If you are going to be on a stage, find out the color of the backdrop. Usually it’s black – which means you want to wear a strong color that will help you stand out. Avoid patterns and prints that are too bold, especially if you are going to be on camera. Wear shoes that you can walk and climb stairs in.

In summary, observe yourself. Use a video camera or get a friend to point out some of these things that you might do. I guarantee it will make a difference and you’ll soon be getting the respect you deserve.

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About the Author: Nikki Smith-Morgan is the VP of Public Words and is a graphic designer and marketing specialist.   She helps people re-think the way they present themselves to the world. She has worked with both large and small organizations on branding campaigns, new product launches and internal communications programs.

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