Dear Coach Joan,
I’ve been in my professional career in the same corporation for 10 years, since college graduation. I have not been advancing as quickly as I believe my accomplishments and impact warrant. I am a petite woman and I feel that I am often not listened to or respected. I got feedback from a few colleagues that they believe I was passed over for promotions because I’m perceived as weak. How can I assert more authority and gain more of a powerful presence in the workplace?
You know, size and gender may play a role but I would contend that even if you don’t have the advantage of size or maleness, you can most certainly project a more powerful, strong stance in the workplace. And these four practices can even work for large or male persons!
- React Thoughtfully, Not Emotionally. Slower reactors are perceived as more powerful and more in-control. Practice pausing. Think, reflect and choose to respond or choose to respond later. Most situations do not require immediate reaction. Whenever you feel anger or hurt rising inside, taking a break — separate from the emotion, especially in business settings. Reactive types are viewed as weak.
- Be large. Even if you are a small woman you can use sweeping gestures, you can lean back, you can go for direct eye contact. Glancing away or using small gestures or the frozen look is weak. Be bold. Also, if you are small, wear one-hued outfits to give you a longer, taller line.
- Measure your words. Think before you speak. Don’t talk too much. Make sure the words you use are intentional. Make sure you have your audience’s attention and that you are continuing to command attention. Sometimes people fill in silent moments by talking, rather than making succinct points and ending there. Why would they do that? Because they might not feel they truly belong in the room. Tell yourself you Do belong in the room and your presence can be felt even if you remain quiet.
- Self-Doubting, Undervaluing, and Not Listening to One’s Innate Inner Wisdom. Listen closely to hear if you have a critical and negative inner voice.If you hear an inner nagging voice that stops you from injecting a fresh idea, asking a question or volunteering to be in a leadership role, catch yourself and change that negative self-talk to a positive one. If you need to, find a supportive colleague or friend to help you with this. Nip it in the bud and become your own inner cheerleader. Marilyn, power is truly projected from within! You have got to catch yourself doing any internal self deprecating talk, feel large, be large and consciously edit yourself to say what you feel is most important to say. But only choose to fill airspace when you know it will improve upon the silence. And the other thing you might consider doing to counter the size-matters issue is to look up all of the super powerful petite sized men and women in history. There are many of them and they truly knew how to project power!
Onward in your career success!