Series Building Executive Presence for Latin Career Women 

According to Gerry Valentine, and his article published in Forbes, Executive Presence “is your ability to inspire confidence in your team as the leader that they want to follow and that you have the potential for great achievements”. There are several factors involved in Executive Presence. Conciseness is one of the seven listed in an article posted in Business Insider. Executive Presence can manifest in different ways depending on who you are, how you look, and how you communicate. If you are a Latina leader interested in advancing in your career, these lines are especially for you.

To become a more concise communicator, you can increase your understanding of gender, language, and culture to leverage your executive presence. Let’s unfold these three variables leaving you with increased awareness of why they’re relevant and some practical suggestions to become a more effective communicator.

I- Gender:

I recently participated in a webinar with Sally Helgesen: ICF Southeast Regional Webinar Series – Empowering Women Professionals to be Exceptional. I truly enjoyed this event connected to my passion of coaching professional career women to become more successful. I had an opportunity to ask Sally what is a piece of advice she would give to Latin female leaders, wanting to rise in corporate roles.

Sally referred to her Bestseller book How Women Rise, specifically, Habit # 10, Too Much. This is the tendency that women have to experience too much emotion and to provide too many details in their communication, by using too many words.

As a Latin woman working in the US, I had learned by experience the consequences of not being concise. I recall a time when I joined a trading organization as their Human Resources Business Partner. It was a very fast-paced environment where things happened quickly and continuously. After my first 90 days on the job, I approached my business leader to collect their first impressions. My Manager said: “Your VP believes you have great things to say, but he’s not sure he has time to listen”. I took offense. What? how come he wouldn’t have time for what I had to say? Later, I understood that this fast-paced environment required agility in action and short and clear messages, in other words, conciseness!. Progressively, I’ve used feedback to improve my effectiveness, and I learned to shorten my sentences. I also joined Toastmasters to become a more effective communicator. It was not until I read Sally’s book that I understood that this is a gendered tendency.

Here are some suggestions to work around this predisposition:

  1. Ask yourself if what you are about to communicate is essential to the overall message.
  2. If you put yourself in the audience’s shoes, would you care about what it is you are about to say?
  3. Have someone you trust who knows your audience listen to what you are going to say before you get in front of your manager, a meeting, or a large presentation.
  4. Budget time to edit down what you are saying to make it more concise.

In addition to gender, for Latin women, there are other two variables that exacerbate the tendency to speak too much and give too many details with too many emotions. These are language and culture.

II. Language:

Speaking a second language affects the way you think, how you structure your ideas, and how you express them. Non-native speakers might be thinking in their native language, translating mentally and them articulating the message in the second language.

Additionally, Spanish is an expansive language compared to English. This means that you will need more words to express the same thoughts and ideas than in English. You might experience this when using Google translate or similar services. While Spanish is expansive, English uses contraction. 

If you are a professional woman speaking English as a second language at work, I provide the following recommendations to become more concise:

  1. Focus on your audience, are they mostly men? Are they native English speakers? If so, be prepared to speaking more succinctly.
  2. Become aware of your speech organization. Are you translating from Spanish? If so, take the time to put your ideas in paper and practice reducing the message to their key components.
  3. Complete the sentence, “if you walk away from this conversation with one thing, I want it to be _________”. This is a great tip from Melody Wilding.
  4. Practice the economy of words by purposefully selecting words that capture the main idea instead of using multiple words.
  5. Take English courses to sharpen your writing skills. Read more in English, especially professional articles and papers to expand your professional vocabulary.

III. Culture 

Latin women in the US live and work in a bicultural world that shape their daily behaviors and choices with values, preferences, and standards from both the American and Latin cultures. This means that we are constantly adjusting to the different cultural expectations of these distinct cultures. I experienced this during my corporate career when I behaved differently in the office. I felt as if I could only relax at home when I could be totally myself. Being bicultural can be emotionally and mentally draining.  On a positive note, knowing two cultures can make you a more rounded professional, more open, flexible, and adaptable, so you can use biculturalism as a strategic advantage in your career.

There is no doubt that culture impacts the way we see the world and for good reasons, Hofstede was the one who named culture “the software of the mind“.  Richard D. Lewis developed a model of Cross-Cultural Communication that classified cultural norms into Linear-Active, Multi-Active and Re-Active, or some combination.

Anglo cultures tend to have Linear-Active communication patterns, meaning that people prefer direct discussions, regarding facts, figures, and balanced participation. There is a preference for logic rather than emotions. Americans tend to be direct, linear, and concise communicators.

In contrast, Latin countries tend to be Multi-active. Behaviorally they tend to be more talkative, eloquent, expressive, and use a lot of body language to express, persuade, and connect. Latin Americans tend to speak with longer sentences packed with descriptive adjectives, lots of details, and plenty of gestures.

Here I offer some suggestions to adapt a more concise approach considering the cultural filter:

  1. Focus on your audience. If you’re a professional woman working mostly in an Anglo environment, adopt a more linear style in your communication.
  2. Share your main ideas first, pause, and if you’re asking for more details, share the context, or provide additional information as needed.
  3. Prepare in advance. Use descriptive words and only provide pertinent supporting details. Practice timing your message. Does it take you more than 2 minutes? Timing it makes you more aware of becoming efficient, especially during meetings.
  4. Tone down or moderate your gestures adding those to your repertoire that enhances your message rather than feeling ‘too much’. For example, moving your hands aiming less when you talk maybe distracting. Use them to emphasize your points when is appropriate.

To become a more powerful communicator, you can overcome the gender tendencies to overcommunicate, the lengthy language patterns, and the emotional cultural ways to express your ideas in a corporate environment. Instead, you can become more concise and still bring your uniqueness, authenticity, and vibrant self to leave a positive mark in all your communication interactions.

As a Latin career woman, concise communication is an essential part of executive presence and a way to project confidence and make an impactful difference. I suggest that due to gender, language, and culture, it doesn’t come as a natural tendency and you will have to cultivate it to increase your chances of succeeding while remaining authentic and true to yourself. It’s a delicate balance and I believe it’s doable and worth the effort!