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A woman's guide to thriving in the corporate jungle

Any career woman worth her salt will tell you that it’s no easy job surviving in the corporate jungle. Standing your man – or your woman in this case – is not only a question of education, experience and sheer determination, but also of finely honed inter-personal skills.

First Impressions Count – for more than you may think.They say it takes us about 10 seconds to form an opinion of some-one we meet for the first time. In business, make that 3 seconds. Like it or not, people will have judged you on the way you dress, the way you move, the way you do your hair and your hand-shake before you’ve had the time to introduce yourself.The key to a positive first impression is so obvious; we almost always forget to mention it: pose. Nothing beats grace, style and finesse. The best way to convey your sense of ease in the corporate jungle is by dressing appropriately. Emulating your male counter-parts in the way they dress may sound ridiculous, but it will instil in them a subconscious recognition: she is one of us. Invest in a clean-cut black or grey pant-suit; add a splash of colour by donning a bright shirt or t-shirt. Always round off the out-fit with appropriate shoes: polished, black, mid-level heels. …and keep your hairstyle slick and conservative. Tied back in a low pony-tail if long, immaculately combed if short. The corporate world is no place to experiment with creatively brushed, wispy hairstyles or long bouncy tresses cascading over your shoulders. Also keep make-up and perfume minimal and subdued. Going in as Cleopatra incarnate conveys the wrong message altogether.

Body language – the unspoken conversation
Psychologists say that 80% of all communication between people is non-verbal. But what does this imply for women in the business world? Simply said, it means that our spoken words count for a mere 20% of the stimuli on which our conversation partner bases his or her opinion of us. So what are all those unspoken things they use to construct an opinion of us?During a business introduction, our conversation partner will judge us on things such as the firmness of our hand-shake, the way in which we look at them (or try to avoid looking at them), the tonality and pitch of our voice as well as the way we walk and stand. We in turn, will judge the other party’s frame of mind, their attitude (submissive, overpowering, and indifferent) by looking at their body language too. Taking this into consideration, it is worthwhile to train your body in the many little nuances of assertive body language.

A few handy hints:
- Walk the walk! Ever noticed how you form an opinion of a stranger you are about to meet as they walk toward you? The way they look at you, the way they move their body tells us more than the few polite words we will exchange during our introduction! Walk proudly and with purpose. Don’t fiddle with your clothes or files you are carrying to mask nervousness. Remember: 80% of all communication is non-verbal! People first pick up any nervousness from your body language…not your words.

- When meeting someone for the first time, don’t wait for them to extend their hand in introduction. Take charge! Extend your hand first and introduce yourself - it gives a clear signal that you are both self confident and at ease in the situation!

- Be prepared: always have business cards ready. Know the purpose of the meeting you are attending as well as the roles and names of the people attending. (Understanding their role in the decision making process may come in handy too). Make sure you have a pen and writing paper handy. Nothing leaves a worse impression than entering a meeting unprepared. Knowing the agenda of the meeting up front allows you to once again take charge and open the meeting with a targeted question or remark related to the topic at hand.

Choose thy words carefully
People who are trained to analyze our personality type be listening to the words we use can tell a lot from sentences such as “I feel that the deadline you are suggesting is a little unrealistic”, or “I sense that you want to change the day’s agenda”. Using words like feel and sense indicate that the person speaking is very much emotionally driven. Women, who are intrinsically more emotional than men, tend to use such words more often than men do. As a woman in a man’s world, it is best to avoid emotionally loaded words. Notice the difference if the words feel and sense are replaced by less emotional words: “I think that the deadline you are suggesting is a little unrealistic”, or “Do I understand you correctly when you say that you would prefer to change the day’s agenda?”. Words such as think, understand and comprehend immediately make your sentence sound more factual and logical, and thus more suitable to a business environment.

Life in the corporate jungle is cut-throat – even at the best of times. As a woman, surviving (and thriving) requires a lot of guts and finely honed inter-personal skills. But regardless how high our educational pedigree or carefully chosen our words, if our demeanour and body language convey a different message, we loose credibility. Remember…the devil’s in the details!