A couple of years ago I realized how easily I could become an ‘invisible’ elder if I allowed that to happen.
I was attending a meeting with some of my co-workers. At one point, I started to offer an opinion but was immediately interrupted by a younger female colleague.
At first, I didn’t feel like it was a slight. But when another female colleague began talking over me, I started feeling as though I had become the invisible elder woman in the room.
Did some of my colleagues think I no longer had anything relevant to say because I was at least a decade older than the rest of them?
Fortunately, I knew I had a choice. As a communication professional, I was aware of some nonverbal strategies I could use to make sure that my voice counted in future meetings with my colleagues.
Before intentionally using specific nonverbal strategies, I like to consider how important it is for me to be visible in a given situation.
If I do want my voice counted, then I know I can use my clothing choices to convey strength. I can also establish a sense of presence in most situations. Finally, I can use specific nonverbal signals to open a channel for me to speak.
Deciding When to Be Visible
Sometimes I think it’s a relief that others don’t see me. I can go to meetings without having to comment, I can attend events without much fuss, or I can even shop for a new car without pesky sales people hovering over me.
Other times, I don’t want to be invisible. When I want others to see and hear me I know that it helps if I acknowledge them. Even when I want to buy a sandwich at a deli, simply smiling or saying something like, “How’s your day going?” can make all the difference.
The same is true when going to meetings. While I don’t personally care for small talk, acknowledging others does open up the door to being acknowledged in return.
The next time I attended my work meeting, I did take time to personally connect with people in the room before getting down to business. In that instance, I deliberately chose to become visible.
Letting Your Clothing Do the Talking
We all have the power to manage the impressions we want to convey; one way we can do this is through our clothing and accessory choices. Even our color choices can make a statement.
For instance, in Western culture, dark blue tends to convey trustworthiness. Red can communicate energy. Black can convey power.
At the next work meeting I attended I wore a cobalt blue blouse and bold silver jewelry. As a result, I felt confident, and my clothes made a statement before I even opened my mouth.
In her 2012 TED Talk, Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are, social psychologist Amy Cuddy shared that using power poses can boost your feelings of confidence and change other people’s perceptions of you as well.
As an example, Cuddy describes how doing power posing before interviews actually changes your hormones and helps you feel more assertive.
Some of these poses, such as raising your hands in victory or doing the Wonder Woman pose – feet astride and hands on your hips – are ones a person can use prior to meetings or situations where confidence is needed.
When I need to give a presentation to an unfamiliar group or want to project confidence in a meeting, I have found that doing power posing a few minutes before these encounters does make a difference.
All of us can use a confidence boost at times. Sometimes when I power pose, I say to myself, “You’ve got this.”
Sending the Right Signals
When I want others to see and hear me, I have to think about my posture during different encounters. If I slump in my chair or try to take up as little space as possible, I am signaling insignificance.
However, if I sit up straight, relax my arms, and allow myself to claim my space, I’m letting others know I am engaged and might have something worthwhile to contribute.
Sitting up straight also makes vocal projection easier. Vocal projection can be difficult for some of us because we were encouraged to be quieter and more ‘ladylike’ when we were growing up. In reality, small, apologetic voices sound uncertain and are easier to discount.
When I attended my next work meeting, I used my eyes to signal that I wanted to talk. I maintained eye contact with others at the table until I finished talking. If anyone had tried to interrupt me, I would have held up my hand like a stop sign. If needed, I would have added a friendly, “Just a minute.”
I don’t always think about the fact that I can become invisible without thinking about it. The strategies I use help me when I want to be seen and heard.
By using appropriate strategies such as these, anyone can assertively express themselves without coming across as aggressive or self-focused. When participating in meetings, when talking to the doctor, or when simply wanting good customer service, our voices do matter!
As elder women, I suspect most of us have experienced feeling invisible. Please share a time when you felt invisible. How did you handle it when others tried to discount your presence or voice? Are there times when you have chosen to move among people without being seen? I’d love to hear about your experiences.