If your body language makes you invisible or irrelevant on the sidewalk, how is it holding up at work?

Share story

My coaching clients sometimes want to talk about increasing their executive presence.

“How do you walk down the sidewalk?” I ask.

Executive presence is about confidence, influence and emotional control (all coachable, by the way). The Harvard Business Review defines it as “your ability to project mature self-confidence,” among other attributes. Forbes describes it as “the ability to project gravitas.”

So back to the sidewalk. A couple years ago, I read about someone who refused to get out of the way when she was walking down the sidewalk. “Interesting,” I thought. “I wonder what I do when I walk down the sidewalk.” And I started paying attention.

I found that I physically defer. I get out of people’s way, particularly if they are bigger than I am. Every instinct screams to step out of the path of a person walking towards me on the sidewalk.

I watched myself move aside for a person shopping at Costco. What really annoyed me was that I moved my fully loaded cart, too (and he didn’t even have a cart).

It’s not just me. At the gym recently, I watched an older woman dressed in professional clothes, carrying a purse and heavy laptop case, step aside for a younger man in workout clothes strolling down the corridor.

I now practice not necessarily getting out of the way as I walk down the right-hand side of the sidewalk. (For clarification, I always step aside for people older than myself, and for anyone who seems to be suffering. Or pregnant. Or carrying a child.)

Not getting out of the way takes attention and resolve, otherwise I will instinctively defer. I practice choosing a line and walking straight down it, with confidence and (I like to kid myself) gravitas.

“Uh, Kathryn?” my clients ask, confused and a bit concerned about this sidewalk topic. “We were talking about executive presence?”

If your body language makes you invisible or irrelevant on the sidewalk, how is it holding up in front of your executive team? In front of your direct reports? Your colleagues? Your management?

“How did you sidewalk that meeting?” I’ll ask a client who finds herself or himself interrupted or talked over, or whose ideas are claimed by others.

If you are deferring when you walk down the sidewalk, do you also step aside in difficult encounters at work? If you politely get out of the way on the sidewalk, do you politely demure when someone claims your airtime in a meeting?

Executive presence is a practice for most of us, whether we are setting our chin to walk down the street or walk into a meeting.