Post by Frances Cole Jones, contributing Women On Business writer
I thought I’d devote my first column for Women on Business to three seemingly small alterations women can make to their tonality and physicality that will lead to large differences in how they are perceived in the workplace—and the world.
But first, a statistic:
A study done at UCLA has shown that people only remember 7% of the words we say. 38% of our impact comes from how we are saying it, and 55% from what our bodies are doing while we are talking.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at tonality:
Because women have naturally higher voices, it’s particularly important to ensure we’re speaking from our diaphragms, because when we aren’t, our voices are higher, thinner, and lighter—conveying little to no authority. If you are unsure and want to check and see if you are, place your hand on your abdomen while you speak. If your hand’s not moving, your diaphragm’s not engaged.
What can you do? An easy way to practice engaging it is to lie on the floor with a heavy book on your stomach and breathe deeply until the book is moving up and down. When you stand up, your voice will have dropped about an octave.
Now that you’ve heard, and felt, the difference, I would ask you to make a practice of checking in with yourself to see if you’re speaking diaphragmatically during the day. Doing so will ensure a warm, welcoming, authoritative tone.
Secondly, while it’s important for everyone to be aware of how they are taking up space, it’s particularly important for women as we often make ourselves smaller, rather than larger: we lean back, we cross our legs and our arms, we pile our coats and packages on our laps….
With this in mind, take a look around at the posture and attitudes of the people around the table in your next meeting. If you’re leaning back with your hands in your lap while others are leaning forward, move to the front of your seat, sit up straight, lean in, and place your hands flat on the table to indicate accessibility.
(General Note: We trust you when we can see your hands. We don’t trust you when we can’t.)
Finally, standing in neutral. As with sitting, women tend to take up less space than men when they stand. While men also stand with their arms crossed across their chests, this is usually accompanied by a widespread stance of their legs—leaving the impression they are merely pleased with what they’re surveying. We, on the other hand, will cross our arms over our chests and keep our feet tightly together. Again, taking up as little space as possible.
My request for everyone is that they begin to stand in neutral: with their feet side by side on the floor and their arms hanging by their sides. If this seems simplistic to you, I’d ask that you stand up and try it: stand with your weight evenly in both feet and your arms hanging loosely by your sides for 30 seconds. My guess is you will have to combat any number of urges to shift, cover yourself, end the exercise.
The reason for this is that we are all hardwired on a cellular level to protect our genitalia. (This is the reason so many men default to standing with their hands clasped in front of them when they’re nervous—this is not a stance you see women fall into.) And this is why training yourself to stand in neutral is so powerful. Because while those around you won’t be able to pinpoint why you seem so confident, they will be left with a sense of strength—one which you will have conveyed without saying a word.