The term gravitas is most often associated with statesmen or senior leaders – those people who have an innate ability to command respect and attention the minute they walk into the room.
But having that air of weightiness and authority is just as important for HR managers, especially if they are operating at board level and need to meet management on a level playing field.
Gravitas often comes with age and experience – a quality that comes more naturally to some than others – but it is possible to develop it.
So, if as an HR professional you want to up your influence and presence, what are the key areas you need to work on?
In order to have gravitas, you need to have belief in yourself and your abilities. It’s about being confident of your worth, of the value you bring to the table and not feeling the need to constantly prove yourself.
If you are clearly comfortable in your own skin, it will shine through and people will trust you. Developing this level of self-confidence means challenging your inner critic (the negative self-talk we all do), having a clear vision of what you are capable of achieving and being aware of your strengths and how you can capitalise on them.
2. Body language
Body languages gives away an enormous amount of what we are really thinking and feeling. So if you want to come across as calm and authoritative, for example, it’s no good fiddling anxiously with your hair, tapping your pen or sitting hunched up in a chair.
More than 80% of our communication is non verbal, so think carefully about how you hold yourself, how you enter the room and how you engage with others through eye contact and the way you shake hands. To convey gravitas successfully, your body language needs to be congruent with the message you want to convey.
For more tips on how to change your body language, watch Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk: “Your body language shapes who you are.”
3. Verbal communication
People with gravitas often tend to say less – but they make sure that what they say matters. It’s about speaking in a considered way, waiting for the right moment to make your point and learning how to use silence.
If you want to make your verbal communication more impactful, think carefully about how you speak. Avoid gabbling, umm-ing and err-ing and irritating habits like saying ‘you know’ constantly. A lower tone also tends to come across as more authoritative (something that can be difficult for women if they have a naturally high-pitched voice).
Listen to yourself on tape to pick up any bad habits you may be unaware of (it’s horrible, but it does help!). This is one area where professional training can be really useful – but if that’s not possible try finding some low-risk opportunities where you can build your presentation and public speaking skills and make sure you ask for feedback.
We’d all like to think that what we look like doesn’t matter and that doing a good job is the most important thing. But rightly or wrongly, image counts and people’s impression of you (especially at first) is dictated to a large degree by what you wear.
Having gravitas doesn’t have to mean wearing a sober suit or sensible shoes. Theresa May, for examples, manages to convey gravitas very successfully while wearing her now famous leopard-print kitten heels. But it does mean paying attention to the detail of your appearance and thinking about the message your image is conveying.
The key to success is to dress appropriately for the environment you are operating in, while also being yourself. If you are uncomfortable in what you are wearing it will show and will also affect the way you feel.
Having gravitas doesn’t mean being arrogant or a know-it-all. The most respected leaders are those who are prepared to genuinely listen to and learn from what others have to say.
Make sure you are fully present when talking to others and are not distracted by your phone or the opportunity to speak to someone ‘more important’ in the room. Listen more than you speak and make it clear that you don’t always have the answers and value input from others