Attuned Leadership for Women Podcast

Episode 027

Leveraging Body Language for Leadership Success


Are you aware of the powerful impact nonverbal communication has on how others perceive you as a woman leader? It’s one of the most overlooked leadership development strategies, yet it has significant potential to drive your success. In this episode, Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT shares evidence-backed ways hand gestures, facial expressions, and body movements convey presence and competence (or the opposite). You’ll want to take notes and experiment with these tips to maximize getting buy-in for your ideas and building trust with your teams and stakeholders.  

A picture of me with text surrounding describing episode 006 and the importance of authentic personal branding to help women stand out in a male-dominant world.


Quotes from the Episode 

“Your body language is critical, not just to understand at a conceptual level, but to leverage to your advantage.

Dr. Crystal Frazee

“It might even be that if there’s ever a situation where I’m going to say it’s appropriate to fake it till you make it, it’s going to be being intentional about body language.”

Dr. Crystal Frazee 


  • 00:00:00 – Introduction to Nonverbal Communication: Discusses the importance of nonverbal communication for women leaders.
  • 00:05:30 – Communication Strategies Series Overview: Provides an overview of the communication strategies series for women leaders.
  • 00:10:00 – Hand Gestures in Communication: Explores the use of hand gestures in communication and the differences between men and women.
  • 00:17:20 – Posture and Leaning In: Discusses the significance of posture, leaning in, and eye contact in communication.
  • 00:20:12 – Facial Expressions and Emotional Communication: Examines the role of facial expressions in conveying emotions and messages.
  • 00:23:23 – Body Movements and Mirroring: Explores the power of body movements, mirroring, and co-regulation in communication.
  • 00:27:08 – Placating Behaviors and Self-Regulation: Discusses placating behaviors, self-regulation, and stress management in communication strategies.
  • 00:30:01 – Reflection Questions: Wraps up the discussion on nonverbal communication and encourages action and reflection for women leaders.

Mentioned in this Episode: 

Podcast Series: Communication Strategies For Women’s Career Success 

Podcast Series: Stress to Strength – How to Build Stress Resilience

Connect with Crystal on Social Media:
Crystal’s Website

Crystal’s Instagram
Crystal’s LinkedIn
Crystal’s TikTok

FREE Leadership Resources from Crystal:

Get updates about Crystal’s upcoming book:

REVIVE: The Working Woman’s Unexpected Guide to Recovering from Burnout

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Prefer to Read? Here’s the transcript!

*Just a heads up – the provided transcript is likely to not be 100% accurate.


Dr. Crystal Frazee:
Did you know that when it comes to communication as a woman leader, studies show that what you say is not the biggest contributor to how you’re perceived. The words you say are only 7% of the impression you make. More important is tone of voice, which contributes to 38%. But added together, it’s only 45%. So what makes up the remaining 55% of how others perceive you? The answer is nonverbal communication. Think body language like hand gestures, postures, and head nodding. Making this topic even more interesting are the double binds women in leadership face because even though specific types of nonverbal communication signal authority, women are easily seen as too assertive or bold when they use them. I hope you gain a new awareness on your own nonverbal communication and clarity for how you might leverage it moving forward in this episode.



Dr. Crystal Frazee:

Where do established and aspiring women leaders go to get answers to their biggest challenges, like how to deal with double standards, break free from hustle and burnout, drive change without being bossy, and how to raise visibility by doing less, not more? I’m Dr. Crystal Frazee, your host and a women’s health and leadership expert and author. I’ve spent the past 15 years developing the answers to those questions. I believe that your body has all the wisdom you need and that without much effort, you can leverage it for things like faster, better decision-making, creating a magnetic presence for influence, and even navigating perimenopause so your performance goes up instead of down. In this show, I will teach you what traditional leadership approaches overlook, how to leverage your body wisdom to break free from time and energy traps, shatter barriers, dissolve the good woman programming that stops you from living on your terms, Level the playing field at home and work and be the most powerful leader you can be. Get ready to rewrite the rules of success and satisfaction using the practical strategies of attuned leadership for women.



Main Content: 

Dr. Crystal Frazee:

Today, I’m sharing my perspective on nonverbal communication. I’m not claiming to know everything there is to know on this topic across all cultures and industries, but I know that the more you understand the big picture, the better you can navigate the unconscious bias that impacts how you’re heard and perceive and experiment with what body language you can use to get your voice heard. I want to acknowledge that the factors I’ll be discussing can vary greatly between individuals’ personal preferences and social norms within cultures to play a role in how people perceive and express themselves. I want to say this is just a starting point for you and that your exploration of this topic goes much deeper. And I want you to take what I’m sharing, let it inspire you, make you think a little bit harder, and apply it so that it serves you. As I was synthesizing the information for today’s show, I realized just how much nonverbal communication can be a secret weapon for women leaders like you, because it can generally increase communication effectiveness. There are tons and tons of studies that have been done that show that’s true. Before we get started and get into the juicy stuff, though, I want to make sure you know that I’ve produced an incredible series on communication strategies for women leaders, starting with episode 23 through today’s show. And quickly, I’ll share what the five episodes of the series covered so you know where you may want to jump back and listen. The kickoff show was episode 23, and that was an overview of the present day communication challenges women like you face, all evidence-based, and a few may surprise you. I believe that when we can identify an experience we’re having that’s uncomfortable, like gender bias, and learn to name it, it depersonalizes the experience. Suddenly our perspective shifts from feeling all alone in an experience and possibly responsible for it to realizing it’s a cultural problem and has very little to do with us. I hope you’ll find episode 23, which is a very short episode, eye-opening and validating. The second one in the series is episode 24, and that must be a hot topic for this audience because it’s gotten a crazy number of downloads in a really short period of time. The title was Mastering Cringe-Free Self-Promotion with Anthea Rowe, who’s a brilliant and very down-to-earth PR specialist. She shared really specific strategies you should use when you’re faced with your ideas and contributions not getting recognized. I thought her tips were valuable and really easy to remember, and I’ve already implemented them in my professional life. Episode 25, number 3 in the series, was with Lucia Cantor St. Amour, literally one of the world’s greatest women negotiation experts. She simplified the concept of negotiation, taking all the fear out of it. and showing you how you need to be negotiating in daily life to strengthen your skills, just like strengthening a muscle with simple things like merging in traffic, getting your kids to eat peas, or responding to a new work assignment you don’t have the capacity for. That way when the stakes are high, personally or professionally, you are ready to negotiate on your own behalf. And I know that her feisty personality and brilliant ideas are exactly the medicine you may need to boost your communication skills, so check it out. Next was episode 25 with Alexia Vernon. She’s one of my personal mentors, who I respect greatly. She’s an executive communications consultant and an author whose career has focused mostly on how to teach people to know when to speak up, how to do it, and when to use silence to convey their ideas and move their initiatives forward. She is a trusted ally to many executives in large companies across the country. These are all so valuable and I hope you download these episodes and listen to them as you’re able because it’s seriously a masterclass series in how communication can help you navigate gender inequity and advance your career that I just don’t think you’re going to find elsewhere. I’ve done months of research for this series and I’ll tell you, it’s really not anywhere else. So now as I shift gears into today’s topic, which I’m so excited for, like giddy, happy about, I want to share that I’ve studied how the body moves both intentionally and unintentionally for the past 20 years. With a background as a doctor of physical therapy and an internationally credentialed yoga therapist, I’ve had experience working literally with thousands of clients. As a professional keynote speaker, what I know for sure, in addition to those other experiences, is that the way we hold and move our body and what it conveys is so powerful. It’s something I’m always aware of and learning about. So I’m really excited to cover nonverbal communication with you today. And some people in my life have joked with me saying I’m like a body language savant. My husband is one of them. He laughs at me and says I should have been a CIA spy because when we travel, I love to people watch. I’ll just sit back and watch people interacting and moving and I form stories of what’s going on in people’s lives. While we were in Hawaii once back in the early 2000s, I observed a small family over a few hours just swimming and hanging out a few yards from us. And I told Steve, my husband, that the woman I thought was the new girlfriend in this scenario, and it was her first trip with the man’s sons in his first serious relationship since his recent divorce. They liked her, but they didn’t want to open up to her. My husband looked at me like I was a psycho. He’s like, what are you talking about? He hadn’t even noticed the family next to us. Well. By lunchtime, I striked a conversation with the couple over the surf conditions and the beautiful weather, and it turned out that my story, all filled in by body language and nonverbal communication, because they’re out of earshot, it was absolutely correct. Now, maybe that was just some luck, but I’ve had a career of this, so I really believe that our body language tells a story about our self-belief, our worldview, our sense of safety, and can convey our level of confidence and competence, especially as women. And the study by Morabian that I mentioned in the opening of this episode really confirms this. Your body language is critical. not just to understand at a conceptual level, but to leverage it to your advantage. It might even be that if there’s ever a situation where I’m going to say it’s appropriate to fake it till you make it, it’s going to be being intentional about body language. Let’s get into some specifics that I teach my coaching clients with attuned leadership. Here’s the order we’re going to talk about nonverbal communication. We’re going to go through hand gestures, posture, facial expressions, and then body movement. First of all, men and women across the world make similar facial expressions and recognize those expressions in one another. We use similar eye contact patterns, physical gestures, and within specific cultural contexts, have a similar use of space, like proximity between people. But given that, there are some specific gender differences. You probably aren’t surprised to hear, for example, that women tend to be superior in reading nonverbal cues, as evidenced by my story in Hawaii. Research shows that women read people with greater accuracy and are more responsive to verbal cues than men. And you as a woman can decode behaviors and use it to your advantage. There’s various explanations for women’s skill with this and why it’s that way. One being that it’s from women essentially being until recent decades, second class citizens. Historically, when you were in the power down position, it requires you to read the environment to accommodate those in power. Others suggest that it’s more related to women being the primary caregivers to children. Either way, there was a landmark study that I’ll mention done by a Harvard psychologist, Robert Rosenthal, that looked at sex differences in nonverbal acuity across all ages. So from adolescent to older aged people. They showed a series of video clips of women displaying a range of emotions. Their words were all muffled, so you couldn’t identify words. And then at least one of the nonverbal cues in the various videos was obscured. So some just had facial expressions. Others only showed body movements and gestures. And they found in 77% of the studies that women were superior to men in accurately judging messages communicated only by facial expressions, body movement and voice quality without knowing the words. Other studies have backed this up and reproduce this study cross culturally, showing that it’s a universal finding. So I think that’s fascinating. Now let’s talk specifically about nonverbal communication strategies. And we’re going to zero in on use of hand gestures. It’s interesting that women are found to use more gestures in regular conversations than men. But men tend to use larger, bolder gestures than women when they do use them. It’s thought that women’s movements are smaller because we’re conditioned from a very early age to be ladylike. It’s also thought that the way women’s clothing is typically designed to be more fitted limits options of how women sit in professional settings and how they may move their upper body. The combination of having a smaller body size, generally, compared to men, wearing form-fitting clothing, and adopting traditionally feminine postures could potentially contribute to an appearance of being smaller and more submissive in certain contexts. Hmm. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe we shouldn’t have done away with the 80s shoulder pads, huh? So to decrease potential bias with this, I would suggest being mindful of what are called shrinking gestures. Those are hand and arm positions that make you appear smaller or less assertive, like holding your hands close to your body, crossing your arms, touching your neck for long periods of time. These can signal vulnerability or insecurity, And what I’ve noticed in observing after reading these studies is I do observe women doing this more than men. And watch out for what are called pleasing gestures. While these can be used strategically to build trust and engagement, overdone, they can seem overly accommodating. Examples could be excessive head nodding, or holding your palms up frequently and repeatedly while you’re speaking. Another point is to notice if you use large expressive movements with your arms, your torso or your neck when you’re communicating. Used strategically to emphasize a point as I’ll get to can be so powerful, but overdone feel a little uncontrolled and maybe distracting. One I see commonly is playing with hair, which often seems like a sign of nervousness, right? The last one I want you to be mindful of doing is fidgeting or self touching. When you can, don’t hold something in your hands like a pin when you’re in a high stakes conversation or a meeting where you feel stressed because unconsciously you can distract yourself or others. I had a colleague that clicked her pin unconsciously repeatedly, like dozens of times sequentially, and it used to drive me absolutely insane. Another one I see is twisting the rings on your fingers and fidgeting with other jewelry like earrings or clothing like pulling sleeves. It’s all unintentional, but it’s communicating something about what’s happening internally that you may not want. I had another colleague that repeatedly had this habit of touching his nose. He wasn’t wiping his nose. He wasn’t picking his nose. It wasn’t really even out of anxiety. It was just a formed habit and it was very distracting when trying to talk to him. I hope that just bringing awareness to these things that I pointed out sounds doable. Again, I’m not saying never do these things, but be aware of which ones you have a tendency to do. at what frequency you do them and in what context. Ask yourself, is this an intentional use of nonverbal communication? Is this enhancing my communication or is it unintentional and potentially drawing away from my competence and leadership credibility? Because intentional use of gestures can give you credibility and increase perceived competence as well as giving your audience a sense of engagement with what you’re saying. The way you use your hand gestures is through deliberate movements. And you want them to emphasize key points and ideas and help your audience retain your message. They’re used to draw them in. For example, using your hands to count off points or using a pointing gesture with a finger to highlight important information can add structure and clarity to the spoken words so they’re going together. The next type of nonverbal communication that I’m going to touch on today is on posture. Let’s start by talking about leaning in. Studies show that men are more likely to lean in during an interaction than women, although both do of course. The general patterns are that men may lean in to assert dominance or engage more directly in the communication. It can signal assertiveness and the desire to control the conversation, like I’m waiting to say something. In some cases, it can also feel aggressive when that’s being done. While women, on the other hand, may lean in for different purposes, like to demonstrate interest, to build rapport, or to show empathy. Women lean in tends to build a sense of warmth and show their desire to connect with the other person. In some cases, though, it can be seen as being accommodating and submissive, particularly when it’s only a woman interacting with a man and the man’s not leaning in. So just be aware of that. What do you tend to do? What do you notice others doing in your workplace? While interacting in standing, women are more likely to have a face-to-face orientation where they square their shoulders and hips with the person they’re talking to, much more typically than men. It’s thought that doing this is a piece of what helps women to see and learn those nonverbal cues and what’s being sent by the other person so it can be an advantage. Women also use more eye contact than men, generally speaking. When talking, I think it’s important to maintain direct eye contact, but not to stare intensely. The studies suggest using what’s called the triangle technique, where you shift your gaze between the person’s eyes and another facial structure, like maybe their nose or their mouth. Keeping in mind that in some cultures, direct eye contact is considered a sign of disrespect. So know the cultural orientation and the nuances of your audience. I’d also like to say that using eye contact can help you gauge the understanding of your audience. So if you are speaking to a group and you’re observing their eyes, are they looking back at you or are they looking away? It can indicate their level of interest or agreement with what you’re saying. And that can help you adjust your message on the spot accordingly so that you make it more effective. And basically with eye contact, I’m just wanting you to be intentional with it. If you’re someone that tends to avoid it, maybe use it more strategically with creating an emphasis on certain points of what you’re saying. Be intentional. If you’re using it maybe too intensely and others are feeling intimidated, then pull back a little bit. Be balanced and be culturally aware. And this is where I think it gets really interesting. Women reveal the full range of emotion through facial expressions much more frequently than men, where men tend to show angry facial expressions more often than women. Now let’s take a minute and just remember why that could be. Men are socialized to believe it’s important to hide their emotions. Take smiling as an example, where women tend to smile way more than men. Girls are socially rewarded more than boys for emotional displays, especially positive ones. The way the brain works is that facial expression happens faster than the words can possibly come out of our mouth. To give you a relatable example of that, I would like you to come to mind of a teenager in your life and how rapidly if you do something that annoys them, they produce an eye roll while you’re talking compared to how long it takes them to say the words that follow. that eye roll is so instant and then there’s a delay and then they may say something or sigh or do a physical gesture. So what’s critical for women given this, given how expressive and revealing they can be with their emotions, is that they make sure their facial expression matches the tone of their voice and the meaning of their words. And this can be critical for women to get the buy-in that they want when they’re talking to their professional colleagues. It highlights the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership, and how disruptive and destructive to how you’re being perceived it can be if you’re passive aggressive. If the goal is to build trust and buy-in, then you have to be consistent between these things. So for example, if you say, wow, that’s an interesting idea, but your face completely lacks expression, and you almost look like you’re gritting your teeth, then there’s conflicting communication happening. And it’s unconscious. Inside your audience’s body, they’re going to feel tension, and they’re going to feel contraction away from you. Generally speaking, you would raise your eyebrows and maybe open your mouth with saying, wow, that’s an interesting idea. The opposite also happens when women get the facial expression right, but the tone of voice doesn’t match. Like when someone doesn’t get their project done by the deadline, or when your partner doesn’t do the chore at home, they promised, and you respond with, that’s okay, even though you are wearing a smile on your face. Okay, now, I know that I might sound like I’m getting a little nitpicky here. So I want to remind you to just take a breath. All right, I know this might sound like nuanced and trite examples. But the point is that you want all of your communication, all of it, body language, facial expression, and the actual words to convey the same thing. If you want to build connection, trust, and have effective communication. Next, let’s touch on body movements. There’s just two quick things I want to say here, maybe three. First is that it can be powerful in creating a sense of connection to subtly mirror your audience’s gesture and postures. I’ll admit that I’m privileged to have weekly sessions with my psychotherapist and I value it, highly recommend it for everyone balancing all the hats of life. If I show up to the session and I’m sad and upset, she starts by matching me and my energy, my posture, and my tone of voice. So if I’m talking slowly and kind of low pitched, she matches it. Because wouldn’t it be disorienting for me if she was sitting all perky, talking fast and high pitched if I wasn’t. So the result of mirroring is that it creates safety and co-regulation. The way you could use this professionally, if you’re talking like one-to-one, is to match the other person’s physical posture. Then, match their breathing pattern. You might see a small shift in their shoulders rising or falling, or a slight movement in the belly. Sometimes we can tell the rhythm of someone’s breath. After you sense that there could be a softening or a connection, again, it’s non-verbal, And it’s usually unconscious for the other person. Then slowly at that point, make a subtle shift either in your posture or your breathing. And if someone was kind of like I was giving in that example, kind of talking slowly and low pitched or in a more folded posture, then slowly you would elevate that to bring them up with you. co regulation is like a ninja skill. In a professional context that refers to the process of adapting one’s behavior, emotions or physiological states, like the level of stress in your body to match those of another person or the group. It’s an important factor to realize that we are human beings with human biology, with nervous systems that control how we see the world. And that when we’re in a stressed state, we see the world differently than when we feel calm and safe. And that by controlling and regulating our own system, we can shift someone else’s nervous system state without using words. As a parent, this is one of my most reliable strategies to reach my children when they don’t want to be reached. They don’t want to be touched, they don’t want to be talked to, and they really don’t want anything from me. So without saying anything, I can get down on their level, I can match their body position and movement, and also their breathing, and just be with them without use of words. And it creates safety and trust, and they soften, and the door opens for communication without me pulling it open. And they usually talk first. As a senior leader of an organization or leader of a team, you want to remember that you can influence in this way without words, even when you’re having a group interaction. You can do that by paying attention to the overall mood and energy of the group through their body language cues. Adjust yourself to match what you’re noticing overall. For instance, if the group is leaning forward towards you and engaged, do the same, which shows your interest and enthusiasm. The last thing today about body movements I want to share is to be aware of using placating behaviors and movements intended to appease or soothe others. strategically, right? The number one thing I see women doing is tilting their heads to the side. And I’ve shared on a previous show that my six year old just like came out of the womb doing this. I don’t know where she got it. But it was more prevalent when I lived in the south. But it’s definitely still something I see today here in West Michigan. If you’re not sure if you’re someone who does that, a woman who is unintentionally doing this head tilt, then I want you to pull up your last 10 selfie shots and notice your head position. It often happens when we’re with someone else and that will tell you, but I think it’s a really interesting gender study to figure out why women do this so commonly, but not men. And for me, my understanding is that it is a placating behavior. It’s a submissive behavior. It’s a very feminine behavior. And I’m not saying it’s wrong. In some cases, I’ve used that as a sign of empathy and understanding or to appear more friendly. But overdone, just like all of these other examples, it can project uncertainty, which might not be ideal in the leadership context, right? We don’t want to be cute in our leadership roles. So maybe you’re wondering, Crystal, given all of this, now that you’ve mentioned all of these things, I don’t know what to do. It sounds like you’re telling me to be hypervigilant of my nonverbal communication. And if that’s you, I want to say, not quite. Yeah, I absolutely want you to attune to your nonverbal communication because remember what you stand to gain. It creates 55% of how others perceive you. I want you to focus on identifying which of the specific aspects of nonverbal communication I’ve shared, you may benefit from dialing it back on or increasing given things like your workplace culture, and most importantly, how effective you feel your communication is being received. So treat this episode as a thought experiment, be curious. And if you spend a few weeks tweaking your facial expression, posture, hand gestures, and body movements, you may be surprised at the results of how you’re perceived and received by others. The other thing is that if you do find that you do a lot of the behaviors like playing with your hair and fidgeting or using darting eye contact, sitting with legs tightly crossed, or arms crossed, or some aspects of nonverbal communication that might signal anxiety, then I want to remind you that is a body signal, that’s your body communicating to listen. In those moments, ask yourself, what sensations am I feeling right now? What do I need to regulate my own nervous system so that I can socially engage and feel more safe in the moment? And I also don’t want to leave you without answers and how to do that. If you’re not sure how to create more self regulation and turn stress into strength, I have a series that I created on that starts with episode eight, and it’s called stress to strength series. I’ll link it in the show notes so you can check it out. But just remember, you can always find any of my episodes on my website at I would love love love to know what you found most interesting or valuable from today’s episode and what strategy you’re going to experiment with first. Remember, this isn’t supposed to be a one-size-all conversation. Different cultures interpret these different aspects differently. I just wanted to inspire you to be intentional with your nonverbal communication, just as much as you might be with your professional clothing style or verbal communication habits. The goal, my big goal, of Attuned Leadership, of this podcast, and the work I do in the world, is to accelerate your success, satisfaction, and sustainability as a woman leader. If you want to learn about working with me through individual coaching, or bringing me to your organization for training or speaking, you can learn about my services at And this five-part communication series has been an absolute delight to curate, create, and publish for you. I hope that you found great value in it, and if so, I would love to ask you to share it with your best colleagues. Send your favorite episode out right now. The more women we reach through this show, the greater the impact, and every small ripple has a meaningful effect. Even when it feels like gender equity is so far away, we cannot lose sight of what our individual actions, as simple as they sound, like rating this podcast or leaving a review or texting the show link to a friend, can do because it gives access to knowledge and validation and strategies to the people that need them. And by building that awareness, we teach more women that the challenges, which are so often invisible, that we face are not due to personal issues. It’s a collective cultural issue and that there are ways to navigate them more successfully. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate you listening. I am so grateful that you are a part of the Attuned Leadership community and that we’re here to make a difference. I care about your individual well-being and our collective progress. Be well and stay Attuned, as always. Bye.