In recent years, hundreds of articles and books have detailed how to make yourself be heard, protect your emotional well-being, and set up healthy boundaries at work. But what about claiming physical space in the workplace?
Eliza VanCort’s A Woman’s Guide to Claiming Space demonstrates how women have been specifically instructed not to take up space in social or professional environments. This contributes to the pay gap by limiting how and when women receive additional responsibilities, screen time, and promotions. Because women are socialized to believe they need to take up less space, they often struggle more than men to hold their ground and stand up for themselves at work. It’s also true that “leaning in” is not the same for every woman; women of color have continuously been treated as “the asterisk to a conversation”, even though they navigate multiple layers of biases that tend to make claiming space even more challenging.
Occupying physical space is a powerful skill for women to have. It nonverbally communicates, “I deserve to be here,” and because it covertly helps them get ahead in the workplace by establishing them as a non-negotiable presence. Common examples of physical communication in the workplace include posture, hand gestures, and facial expressions.
VanCort shows that to claim space effectively, you must practice self-awareness and respect. She details how you can use the following areas to achieve physical presence within the workplace. While Eliza’s tips are aimed at women in the workplace, everyone can benefit from learning how to take up space confidently.
According to VanCort, posture is crucial for claiming space because it shows “how you feel about yourself and how the world sees you.” People with a strong stance are not only more approachable in the workplace, but they are recognized on a deeper level because they subconsciously refuse to cower or bow to anyone.
When you stand tall, you’ll feel more confident while forcing other people to look you in the eyes and acknowledge your presence. Straighten your shoulders, throw your chest back, and hold your head up because when you are seen, you are much more likely to be heard.
Your voice is one of the most powerful tools in the workplace. You can use it to solve problems, outline solutions, and advocate for yourself and others. VanCort says that voice “can show strength, or reveal weakness, dilute an argument or bolster a point.” By learning to use your voice tactfully, you can control the way that other people receive you.
We know that men interrupt women more (and that the onus is on men to change that behavior). However, women can utilize eye contact and volume to minimize those interruptions and shut down instances in which someone tries to talk over them. If other people try to interrupt you or shut you down, you can make them listen by speaking with intention and conviction. VanCort teaches you that your voice will impact how other people perceive and connect to you, and she gives you the tools to make other people remember what you want them to about your talk, presentation, or opinion.
Body language is the first thing that most people notice, especially for workplace leaders. People listen to how we say something more than they listen to what we say.
Body language can also affect someone's level of interest or focus. You can always tell when another person is ignoring you or half-paying attention to your presentation. Using inviting but strong body language in your meetings or presentations will boost your physical presence tenfold.
VanCort will help you increase your skills as a communicator by teaching you to send and interpret the messages found in body language while influencing how others respond to you. She shows when to make small or big gestures for optimal space-claiming.
Women are often so cognizant of how they present themselves at work that they don’t realize they deserve more recognition and support for their contributions—this discovery can change your professional trajectory almost instantaneously. Claiming your space in the workplace will help you harness your confidence in order for you to be seen and heard every day. Check out all of Eliza’s space-saving tips in A Woman’s Guide to Claiming Space.