“I recently interviewed for director level job and passed all criteria except one; gravitas (or lack of).”
Do you advise on compliance or some aspect of ethics in a company?
If so, you may well talk to senior people, or even the Board, while not perhaps being particularly senior yourself. Without gravitas, you risk being ignored, side-lined or even not taken seriously.
What is gravitas?
“Gravitas is having a seriousness and important manner, creating feelings of respect and trust in others.”
Despite its somewhat mysterious nature, you can with practice definitely develop your own brand of gravitas. Gravitas arises partly from being fully present.
However, communicating gravitas is rather more than just establishing a presence. It’s a way of being, a below radar quality which not everyone knows they’re missing.
Perhaps you believe you already have gravitas? Unfortunately whether you do or don’t is not about what you believe. It’s entirely up to others to decide about your level of gravitas.
Think of someone you respect and trust. This could be a mentor, teacher, perhaps a sports coach, or even a relative.
You have confidence in them probably because in some way they inspired you. What made this person worth trusting, respected, and someone you felt confident in their ability? Your answers probably include one or more of these:
Signs a person has gravitas
How far do these apply to you?
People with gravitas also do things you can actually see by watching them in action.
Some of what they do has been discussed earlier, for example in the chapters on appearance, rapport, authenticity, body talk, and demonstrating confidence.
Here are some more clues for action to create gravitas effect
A retired military captain out of uniform, was walking down a street. As he passed a soldier in uniform the other man saluted.
The ex-captain stopped and asked why, even though he was not in uniform, the solider had given him a respectful salute.
“I just knew by your walk that you were a captain, so I felt I should salute” was the revealing reply.
How you sit, stand or move around—your demeanour, can make a huge difference to how you come across to others and whether you convey gravitas.
The impact of physicality in creating gravitas can be puzzling. You may for example wonder what stops my expertise and knowledge does not automatically create a strong gravitas?
Yet this is not such a mystery. Experts, specialists and others with detailed knowledge of some field personally may find it hard to realise others don’t feel the same way about such information.
Gravitas does not happen through supplying information. When you watch people with gravitas they tend to
- Sit very still, and usually rather erect
- Use their hands and eyes to build gravitas
These two physical forms of behaviour appeal to the emotional parts of the brain. Still and erect people seem thoughtful and important, alert and energetic. Hands and eyes communicate more than any amount of facts and figures.
You already know body language build gravitas. But how do you adjust your own long-standing habits so you do things differently?
For example, if you tend to regularly massage your nose, rub your head, or look repeatedly at your nails during an encounter, you could be undermining your gravitas impact without even realising it. Here are three ways to start changing how you come across to others.
FOC, BOC and HOTT
No, these abbreviations are not swear words nor a secret code! Instead, they are easy to remember triggers to help enhance your gravitas impact.
FOC stands of Feet on the Floor. BOC means Bottom on Chair. Each can be a prompt to ground you in stillness and being upright. For instance instead of sitting in a chair with your legs crossed keep your feet firmly on the floor.
Similarly as you sit, make sure your bottom is not on the edge of the chair, but firmly placed on it, pushed towards the back.
Both these positions have a physical impact, not just on you but people around you.
When trying to convey gravitas, repeat these two reminders. They will stop you thinking solely about just giving facts and information to your audience.
By repeating these reminders you allow your thinking to come more naturally. You will sound more authentic and relevant than you might have previously imagined.
This is a variation on BOC. It too can influence your body language in an encounter with others.
Imagine you have a huge, heavy dragon’s tail coiling from your tail bone–it encompasses the entire room, filling the space.
This powerful image can help promote your sense of stillness and weightiness.
Much of what we call gravitas or ‘executive presence’, is really just people reactions to another person’s body language.
So take a fresh look at yours. Are you projecting an outward confidence through it or not? Try asking some trusted colleagues for some honest feedback.
This stands for Hands on The Table. Here’s how it works.
Put both the palms of your hands flat on a table. Now say aloud this sentence:
“I’m pleased we could get together today, what have you in mind to discuss?”
Now, with palms upright say it again.
Notice any difference? It’s almost impossible to make the sentences sound identical–the physical positions strongly affect how you feel.
With palms down, you’ll tend to sound serious and even thoughtful. With palms upright you’ll normally sound more friendly, engaging–but also more vulnerable.
In your next meeting, to create trust and credibility, start with palms facing down.
Gravitas generates a sense of space around you. So when you’re next with other people, imagine your personal space bubble expanding twice, three times, ten times in volume.
Such deliberate mental imagery has the power to alter subtle cues of your body language–people will start to respect the greater distance. Then when you choose to draw them in they’ll feel a sense of occasion,
After your physicality probably the next biggest impact on achieving gravitas is the language you use.
This includes specific words, how many you use, emphasis and pace.
People with gravitas or executive presence, carefully select their words. They avoid erupting forth with a babble of phrases, ideas and solutions.
If you have a strong specialist expertise for example, could you be undermining your gravitas through sheer word volume—saying more than you need? Those with gravitas for instance, tend to prefer 10 words instead of 30.
To insist they’re heard, smart people dive in with their ideas, making sure they have an impact. Wiser souls though, wait, observe, then assess and summarise what they’ve heard, adding their evaluation and insight.
If you need time to reflect, you could say,
“Let me think about it and get back to you by end of day.”
Smile slower and from inside
Smiling is certainly important for building gravitas. But it’s not just any old smile. What builds gravitas is a smile that comes from inside you. Another way of saying this is: have a smile in your voice.
Some gravitas experts even argue against ordinary smiling altogether. This seems extreme. But sometimes rationing your smiling can make perfect sense.
Women seem to have a natural tendency to over use smiling, which may inadvertently make it harder to create an air of gravitas.
Confidence plays a huge part in building gravitas—please review Chapter 11.
Poor self-confidence can affect your voice, words and body language. The point was made in Chapter 11 of how acting “as if” you have confidence sends a powerful inner message which actually affects how your brain influences actions you do not directly control.
However this is not the same as saying something feeble and indecisive such as
“Oh I don’t know—I can never decide that.”
Look the part
Be sure you also look the part—please also review Chapter 5 on appearance.
If you’re a techie person you may be able to get away with a highly informal look, depending on the organisation’s culture. But don’t fool yourself looks are irrelevant.
Dressing to create gravitas doesn’t always mean starched shirts and serious suits, but it does mean paying attention to the company “look”. In an OfficeTeam survey, 80 percent of managers said clothing choices affect an employee’s chances of earning a promotion.
Dressing to the position you aspire too still seems entirely relevant in many companies
Check out the sartorial choices of influential executives at your workplace. If you’ve set your sights on the next level, or the one above, adjust your work wardrobe accordingly.
For example, if you notice a colleague always wears a tie to meet your mutual boss, what is that saying about his determination to create the right impression?
How confident are you about your appearance? Women need to consider their choice of hairstyle, makeup and accessories, and see what these say about them
Men need to consider facial hair and personal grooming — are they executive worthy?
Track your gravitas
Building gravitas is not a quick, once-only task. You need to keep returning to it, seeking frequent feedback and checking your impact.
Enrol some allies in the task. There is absolutely nothing shameful or weak in admitting you’d like to strengthen your gravitas. Try asking your boss for some feedback about any signs of weakness.