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Can tilting one’s head in a conversation make a difference in the outcome? Can the amount of space one takes up at a conference table in a meeting display a level or lack of confidence? Both acts are part of one’s body language that can tell more about a person than anything that person says.
Are there certain words and ways to conduct a conversation that can indicate if the person speaking is careful and exploratory or direct and authoritative? What does it mean when a person, especially a woman in the workplace, asks permission instead of informing others of a decision?
Honing one’s communications style, be it spoken language or body language, can lead to higher success. There are a multitude of executive coaches that can help shape a woman’s success through improving language styles. A couple of those coaches have written informative and helpful books full of tips and techniques.
Good Communication Skills Required
Looking through any of the job listings online or in the local newspaper, it’s easy to summarize the most sought after job skill: Good communication skills. Those skills usually come in several layers and range from the spoken word to the written word and displaying good body language.
Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., an executive coach that has helped thousands of women advance their careers, lists a number of communication tips and techniques in her book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers (Warner Books, 2004). Frankel offers two chapters with valuable thoughts on communicating effectively and with authority such as:
- Inform rather than ask permission to make a decision.
- Reduce the number of words that minimize or diminish the importance of an accomplishment.
- Speak at a moderate rate, not too fast and not too slow.
- Forget the touchy-feeling language and confidently state opinions and phrases. For example, instead of saying, “We may want to…” say, “It is best if we…”
- Project your voice rather than speaking softly in all conversations and presentations.
The Power of Talk
Sarah Myers McGinity, Ph.D. has written a book about the power of language, and how tone and delivery makes a huge difference. The book, Power Language: Using Language to Build Authority and Influence (Warner Books, 2001), describes language from the center and language from the edge, and how each type of delivery influences the listener.
McGinity describes language from the center as using the spoken word to assert direct and authoritative language, and sounds like:
- It is direct rather than responding.
- Makes statements, not questions.
- Contextualizes with authority.
- Contradicts, argues, and often, disagrees.
- It is confident, brief, and unemotional.
Language from the edge is speaking more carefully, exploratory, and inquisitive, and sounds a bit different:
- It is responsive versus directing.
- It is about asking questions.
- Contextualizes conversation with protective strategies with “bubble-wrapped protective covering,” such as saying, “This question may have been answered already.”
- Avoids argument.
- It is more conversational.
Some bosses like the woman executive that uses language from the center, while others feel that level is too confrontational and too disagreeing. A good mix is to use each type when and where appropriate.
Not only does what one says matter, but how one holds their body is a determinate of success. Frankel lists some unusual tips for body language including:
- Take up as much space as possible at meetings and sit in the space next to the most powerful person in the meeting because power spills over.
- Avoid tilting one’s head when conveying a serious message. Instead look others in the eye. Tilting the head can work when trying to get the other person to open up to convey understanding.
- Keep grounded by keeping both feet on the floor. Women tend to sit with one foot tucked up under so that they are sitting on the foot. Men will never sit with one foot tucked and neither should women.
- Always put hands on the table at meetings. Avoid putting hands in the lap or under the table.
While some of these rules seem minor and insignificant, their effects have been widely observed and documented. Practicing these tips often will turn them into habits.
Ronnie Deboer is an Android developer. He graduated from the University of Arizona. He works at an iPhone app service as a writer and at an IT company as an Android developer. He's keen on technologies.