Secretarial: So you want a pay rise...

Then loosen up. Your body language could be blocking your promotion.

A woman is sitting on a train, attempting to use her arm-rest. But she's squeezed in by male elbows and legs on either side, whose unconcerned owners flap their newspapers in her face. Later, the woman catches a bus. She's dying to sit down, but the last vacant seat is taken up by a man's briefcase and she just knows he won't budge it.

Sound familiar? "When it comes to body language, men move in and women make room for them," explains Judi James, author of Bodytalk. "And it doesn't just happen on the way to work. It happens when you get there. In fact, a range of new studies shows that although women in the late Nineties have made huge strides in the business world, they still limit themselves enormously by sending out the wrong signals with their bodies."

Indeed, a study that hid cameras in British offices revealed how women - even in top positions - make themselves look smaller with arm-folding, leg-crossing and papers across the chest, while men use strong spatial behaviours. "No surprises as to who appears more confident and capable," says James. "And since the number of male secretaries is growing at an astounding rate, it's high time female secretaries started to think about changing their behaviour."

Making this a particular challenge, admits Dr Lillian Glass, a US communications specialist, is the fact that body language isn't usually noticed or used consciously. "That's why it is such a powerful weapon." And it seems that the British have the most to learn. "Take a study by the University of Florida, which noted how many times different nationalities touched each other as a sign of empathy when talking in public. In Puerto Rico, it was 180 times an hour. In Paris, 110. In London, it was zero."

Lesson number one, she believes, should consist of spreading your papers around a meeting-table and practising using your hands and arms while explaining things, rather than typically female movements such as touching your hair and clothes. "The trick is to show that you are in control rather than appearing nervous or submissive."

Then - perhaps surprisingly - secretaries need to concentrate on not smiling too much. "Smiling creates an atmosphere of relaxation, demonstrating women's concern with social harmony," explains Rachel Reeves, a social psychologist at Oxford University. "But it can also be an appeasement gesture - demonstrating acceptance of the other person's power. In other words, when the corners of your mouth turn up, make sure that it doesn't make you look desperate for approval."

Do not, however, make the mistake of imitating men, says James. "In business, that was the mistake of the Eighties," she claims. "Before then, we conceded too much - our dress had to be feminine, and men stood up when you walked into an office. In the Eighties, we reacted by mimicking men in dress and body language because power was applauded. In the Nineties we are more comfortable and confident. That's reflected in our dress, but we need to work on body language."

Above all, she says, women need to be assertive without the Eighties aggressiveness.

Sara Bates, a business trainer in non-verbal communication, says women need to work particularly hard at using eye contact.

"Averting your eyes - particularly when conversing with a man - can make you appear worryingly humble and even a bit flirtatious," she says.

Mind you, James thinks men have a few lessons to learn, too. "As part of my training course, I show a slide of a business woman looking straight into the camera. The women always say she looks pleasant, but the men say she looks a bitch and they wouldn't want to work for her. The women perceive her friendliness; the men just see threatening eye contact. It's because we've been socialised to believe men's place is to be in the authoritative role."

According to Allan Pease, author of Body Language, if you want to be ahead of the game, you should be aware of cultural differences.

"For instance, research shows that, as with Australians, the distance that British people stand apart from one another when socialising is further than most nations."

Consider the example of a Danish couple who migrated to Australia. At a club they attended in Sydney, several female members claimed the Danish man was making advances to them, while the males thought the same about the Danish woman. It was just a misunderstanding ,as a result of Danes having a smaller personal zone than Australians. This can also have the opposite effect, which can be fatal in international business dealings.'

Pease believes that aspects of body language are already in women's favour. "Research indicates that women are naturally more aware of the unconscious signals of body language than men. Less than 15 per cent of men are able to read non-verbal signs. So if a man is going to lie to a woman and doesn't want to be caught out, he's better off doing it by fax or phone, so she can't see him."

The bottom line, body language experts agree, is that the total impact of any message is 7 per cent verbal, 38 per cent tone and a staggering 55 per cent non-verbal. What's more, taking control of your non-verbal actions is now deemed to be more significant than what you wear. So if women want to "make it" at work, they simply can't afford to ignore its impact any longer.

`Body Talk' by Judi James (Industrial Society, pounds 9.95); `Body Language' by Allan Pease (Sheldon Press, pounds 6.99)

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas