Sharon Sayler

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Update: My opinion about Sheryl Sandberg’s recent body language faux pas appeared in the Wall St. Journal Online as well as nearly 300 other media outlets. View the Wall Street Journal Online piece here.

“Little Girl” Body Language Can Sabotage Women Executive’s Success

Sheryl Sandberg Cover Falls Flat, Not Leans In. Time Magazine featured Sheryl Sandberg, author of “Lean In,” with the title “Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Successful….” on the cover in 2013.

The reason I mention the cover is that I am disappointed that she posed in a “Geez, I hope you like me” posture. To the right is my stand-in to illustrate my point.

The crossed ankles while standing says “little girl” and the fig-leaf pose of the hands screams “I’m just like you” or “I’m harmless.” The fig-leaf / crossed ankle position makes you look physically smaller and in body language for success, size matters!  (That’s a tweetable!)

Maybe it was the photographer’s suggestion, however, the point is, you must be aware of what messages you are sending. The problem I see with many of my successful women clients is they engage in diminishing poses and behaviors at the expense of their ability to be taken seriously and be seen as confident and credible.

These behaviors lead their superiors to assume that women displaying these behaviors have negative leadership qualities. That places a limit on their upward mobility.

Stop These 3 “Little Girl” Poses To Be Taken Seriously

Pose #1 Crossing ankles while standing. As a woman who loves high-heels, I know why we cross our legs at the ankles while standing: it relaxes the back, legs and feet for just a moment.

‘Meg,’ a young woman in her mid-20’s and second in command at a fast-growing entrepreneurial startup, hired me recently to prepare her to be a more visible “face” of the company. Our first engagement was for me to observe her on stage introducing the company CEO. Onto the stage she strides, she turns to face the audience and crosses her feet at the ankles…all that confident nonverbal pre-framing just flew off stage and out the door. She just said, “I’m a little girl.” The audience did not take her as seriously as she had expected. There’s nothing else to say about this, except if you want to send a message of success, don’t do it. Stand with your feet under your hips, sit and / or get more comfortable shoes.

Pose #2 The fig leaf hand pose. This overly acquiescent pose known as the fig leaf (hands crossed over the groin) can say “Geez, I’m just like you” or “I’m harmless” or even “I’m afraid.” None of these stereotypes are as inspiring and influential as having your arms down by your sides in their natural position or having your forearms parallel to the ground.

Pose #3 Head tilting or tipping. On the Time cover, Ms. Sandberg’s head is chin up and tipped to the side, which is a dismissive move. More common is the submissive pose of head tipping alone saying, “I hope you like me” or “I’m confused” depending on context.

One of my frequent missions is to shadow a client during work hours. I shadowed ‘Sue,’ a vice president, at a Fortune 500 company. She wanted to be senior vice president and had seen others less qualified or dedicated promoted above her. After observing two exchanges, one with her boss and one with her assistant, it became apparent that she was tipping her head to speak and to listen. To the boss, the consistent head tip said ‘submissive and not management material.’ To her assistant, it subconsciously said, ‘push-over.’ ‘Sue’ and I debriefed the session. Her first response was ‘You wouldn’t believe how my assistant takes advantage of me’. Yes, I would. Three months later she is a senior vice president with a new assistant who respects her.

Remember: Strategic communication is essential to our success, and a huge part of that communication is nonverbal.

Today more than ever, we have to be strategic. These are just three of my many “favorite career killing moves.” To download a copy of my free e-book “The Seven Things Nobody Is Telling You That Can Cost You Clients, Sales and Even Your Career,” go to http://www.sharonsayler.com/gift

Share with me in the comments section your thoughts on these common career killing moves? 

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