Especially for Women: 10 Ways Your Body Language Hurts Your Career

1 April, 2015

Body Language Down

You can spot them in the change rooms – the ones who spread their clothes, towel and toiletries all over the outsized red bench. They stand directly in the middle of the space between the lockers, causing other sweaty gymmers to either squeeze past or walk the long way round to the showers. Sometimes they even take up two mirrors – one for themselves and the other for their nicely spaced out things.

I used to think these people were selfish and inconsiderate, rude even, until I researched the power of body language. I observed that by expanding their personal space these people are in fact expanding their personal power.

It’s not confined to the gym. One way status is nonverbally demonstrated is by physically taking up space, particularly in the workplace. Interestingly, most women tend to actually contract their bodies and minimise their size. Think crossing legs, hooking one foot behind the other, wrapping arms around the body, and putting things in small, neat piles. And this, fellow females, is a sign of weakness and is hurting your career.

Here are 10 more ways your body language may be doing you damage:

Tilting your head

Yes, tilting your head can be a sign that you’re listening and involved. But it’s also a sign of submission. Be particularly aware of this when having your photograph taken – it looks like you desperately want to be liked. When you need to project power and authority, keep your head straight up.


Similar to head-tilting, constant nodding can indicate empathy and encourage the speaker to continue, but it also lacks authority and power, and the constant movement can be distracting. In situations where you want to maximise your influence, minimise your movements.

 Pitching “up”

Listen to your voice and see if your pitch rises at the end of a sentence, particularly when introducing yourself or in other stressful situations. A rising voice sounds like you’re asking for approval. When stating your opinion, use the authoritative arc i.e. start on one note, rise in pitch through the sentence, and drop back down at the end. Give it a go.

Waiting your turn

You think it’s bad manners to interrupt? Maybe, but you look less credible if you don’t. When the negotiation is on and you politely wait your turn to make your point, you’re seen as weak. To come across as more powerful you must learn to talk more and yes, interrupt more.

Shaking delicately

So much has been said about this but it’s true – the softer your handshake, the less authority you have. Square shoulders, eye-contact and a palm to palm firm handshake are a must. Every time.

Being a girl

Twirling or flipping your hair, fiddling with your jewellery, grabbing your upper arms or touching your neck are all things women do to self-soothe when under stress. These low-confidence gestures are better replaced by sitting with your hands in your lap or on the conference table where you will be reminded to keep them still.

Hands on hips

While we’re all for coming across as more confident, this stance is usually interpreted as a sign of superiority or bigheadedness and is perhaps best reserved for the company of friends.

Looking down

Looking down while you’re speaking looks like you’re self-conscious, uncomfortable or you don’t believe what you’re saying. If you look down while giving a presentation your point loses all of its power and makes you look weak.

Turning away

Along with folding your arms, angling your body away from the person you’re in conversation with, or pointing your feet towards the exit, shows that you’re uncomfortable, distrustful or disinterested.

Wearing flats

While this is not strictly a body-language tip, wearing heels makes the impact that flats struggle to do. According to a European study that correlated heel height with confidence, “Research has suggested that a tall woman is considered more assertive, more confident, richer, more capable, successful, independent, and even more intelligent than their shorter peers.” Take that.

These are just a few of the ways your body language can hurt your career. Do you have any others to add? Let us know in the comments.


Robyn Young - Personal Leadership Branding for Executives

About the Author

Robyn Young

As a personal leadership branding strategist, Robyn Young helps individuals identify and articulate their unique strengths, values and goals, empowering them to build an authentic personal brand that resonates with their stakeholders.

Robyn has a keen eye for aligning personal attributes with professional aspirations, helping her clients project a powerful and compelling image in their chosen field.