A dictionary definition of gravitas is “a serious and solemn attitude or way of behaving”. To the ancient Roman republic, it meant dignity, seriousness and duty, one of the essential virtues expected of men to possess. However in my view, it’s not about taking oneself seriously – it’s about taking what one does seriously.
Why bother to cultivate it?
In order to convince and especially promote your interests in business, the decision maker needs to know, like and trust you. Cultivating gravitas is a compelling business strategy for establishing credibility, respect and trust. With gravitas, you show yourself to be a leader who inspires confidence and wins business.
Take care to look the part. An interesting study revealed that if a vet dressed ‘down’, they were rated as low in effectiveness. However if they dressed in a white coat and wore a stethoscope (however superfluous), they were rated as highly effective! Go to hairdressers to get the best advice on how your hair should look. Go to an image consultant to match your colouring, your style and the context of the clothes you are wearing. Go to the gym to increase your fitness. Buy expensive shoes and keep them polished – people DO notice. Make sure your nails are carefully manicured. Make your appearance looks at least one level better than expectation to make an impact.
Occupy your space
Imagine the 18” the British traditionally claim around the body. To increase a sense of ‘presence’ when you walk into a room, increase the space around you to include the room and enfold everyone in it. To create energy within you, imagine that you have a secret that no one else knows and go into the room thinking this. On entering the room, pause in the doorway and look round. Then move forward towards a group where the body language suggests they are open to others joining them. Even when you think that people are turned away from you, their peripheral vision will catch your entrance and make unconscious assumptions about what to make of you.
Value your words
Be sparing and measured in your speech and make every word count. People with presence say relatively little. Though everything they say counts – valuing quality over quantity. You have no need to raise your voice – in fact, you will have people leaning forward to catch your words if you speak firmly yet quietly. And according to research, for men, the female voice is more complex and more difficult to hear and understand. A concern is that women’s higher pitch can be interpreted as subordinate. So for women to gain authority in the workplace, they need to deepen their vocal delivery and make it more deliberate.
Hold the silence
Before you speak, hold the pause to ensure others’ attention. When you have finished speaking, stop talking. You communicate very powerfully by your silence.
Set the mood
Before you enter the room, focus on how you want everyone in the room to feel. People are only too willing to be guided by you so set the tone and mood. You gain the influence to set the agenda for the rest of the meeting.
Make sure your unconscious signals are powerful: your movements and delivery deliberate and you use the major key in your voice to convey certainty.
In a situation where you are likely to feel unsure or lacking in knowledge –and especially if you are talking with someone who is an expert, change the role that you are playing. Ask searching and challenging questions to keep them thinking. Give incisive summaries of what you have heard to make it clear you are still powerfully attentive. If you get interrupted when speaking, look irritated and immediately cut in to repeat what you were saying. And ladies, cut down on smiling. It can be seen as placatory and submissive. Make your smile the reward.
Give your undivided attention
Give eye contact and quieten your internal chatter. Make space to absorb what’s being said and especially HOW it’s communicated. Become consciously aware of the subtext of body language and vocal tone (the hidden 95% of thought processes). It will give you a lot of information as to how you want to respond. Then make your response deliberate and targeted. Be like Clinton – make the person you are talking to feel the most important person in the room.
Expect to take notes – you are valuing what you hear and are taking the information to digest at a later date. However do not scribble furiously – others are likely to dismiss you as the minute-taker, particularly if you are a woman.
And finally – don’t expect to be liked!
I have noticed a divide between the intentions of men and women in this context. Men on initial meeting tend to seek respect and women, rapport. Having gravitas is to gain respect from those around you. Gaining respect is far more valuable in business than being loved since even now, business is male-centric. Respect gives you instant credibility and therefore you are taken seriously. In the commercial world, people need to know, like and trust you to follow your lead. Having established respect and credibility, building rapport later will encourage them to want to like you and put business your way.
Email me firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +44 (0)7939 261743 if you want to follow up on any thoughts you have about increasing your gravitas. I’d be happy to discuss things with you.
Sarah McCloughry FRSA
Anrah Development Limited
CSSD (1974), London Univ, member of the British Voice Association
+44 (0)1865 243655
+44 (0)7939 261743
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