Gravitas is not a quality you are born with, or gain through power or position. It’s not the result of trying to consciously stand out from the crowd or dominate your colleagues. In fact, it has a lot to do with how you develop your communication and inter-personal skills.
The 2019 book by Australian-born Dr Rebecca Newton, organisational psychologist and senior visiting fellow, Department of Management, London School of Economics, ‘Authentic Gravitas – Who Stands Out and Why’ provides insights, ideas and techniques to achieve gravitas.
Dr Newton shows how a disciplined commitment to self-leadership can build trust, influence and authentic gravitas that enables people of any age, gender or personality to “lead the room.” Authentic gravitas means you are respected and trusted, your words carry weight, your ideas are taken seriously and your contributions valued. People gravitate towards you because you are not only inspiring but you inspire greatness in others.
“It’s not that they’re more senior or experienced, louder or soft-spoken, more motivating or more sombre, more serious or upbeat than anyone else. Yet their words, their opinions, their ideas carry weight,” she relates. People with gravitas not only add significant value, but also create conditions for those around them to do the same.
Business leaders – indeed leaders in any sphere who are given hierarchical responsibility and power – may fall into the trap of ‘adverse gravitas’: being aggressive, manipulative, coercive or fostering an environment of fear where others feel they need to walk on eggshells. They can intentionally or unintentionally posture, dominate and railroad a situation, perhaps adding value in terms of content, but preventing others from contributing.
In contrast, authentic gravitas involves consciously determining the impacts you want to have on the people around you (write down the descriptors you’d like others to use about you), continually seeking feedback and assessing how you are living up to these goals, recognising the differences between your intent and your actual impact and working to minimise the difference between intent and impact.
Gravitas is possible when we shift our focus from what we are going to say to the impact we want to have, Dr Newton notes.
Ask yourself: How do I want those I encounter to think, feel and act as a result of this encounter with me?
Gravitas = a commitment to courage over confidence:
- Offer to take ownership and responsibility for moving an issue forward, taking on challenges
- Create an environment where others feel willing to be vulnerable and courageous themselves
- Take up conversational queues that lead down a route to different business areas outside your comfort zone, rather than plough on with your planned conversation
Gravitas = connection over charisma:
- Clearly and persuasively explain your thinking, offering insights and points of view
- Value and encourage others’ contributions
- People with authentic gravitas are collaborators, not independent heroes
- Engage and connect, both in serious moments and fleeting encounters
Gravitas = curiosity over certainty:
- Recognise there is more to know than we know now
- Avoid the overconfidence of confirmation bias, the tendency to seek, select, recall, interpret and favour information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs and under-weights disconfirming evidence
- Look for new information, patterns of thinking or behaviour that enables us to stand outside a situation and analyse it clearly
Gravitas comes from focusing on the people in the crowd, rather than focusing on how to stand out from the crowd.
The more we understand about the people around us and their motivations, the more likely we will have a significant, positive and lasting impact, Dr Newton reasons, introducing the concept that we will communicate better with those we deal with or wish to influence if we are aware of their motivations. Professor Paul R Lawrence and Nitin Nohria’s book ‘Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices’ outlines four drivers behind all we do as human beings: to acquire, to bond, to learn and to defend. Understanding which one drives each situation gives you an advantage.
Dr Newton proposes an IMPACT model as a way to prepare for meetings, presentations and speeches: Insight, Motivation, Perception, Advocate, Content and, only after these, Technique. Before writing or thinking about what you should say, consider the Impact, Motivation and Perceptions imprint you wish to make. Then the actions you need to take: define what are you Advocating, the Content of your messages, and Techniques of verbal and non-verbal communication.
She elaborates and provides insightful examples of her IMPACT process, devoting a separate chapter to techniques that enable a person to increase one’s presence in face-to-face presentations as well as virtual situations.
These techniques include:
- Replacing powerless language (hedges such as “I guess” / “sort of”, hesitating with “You know” or “I mean”, rhetorical questions, or overly polite, formal language)
- Being intentional about non-verbal messages; eliminating distracting gestures
- Seeking feedback
- Giving everyone equal eye contact
- Expanding your knowledge and reflecting on your contributions
- Making time to think – both in a free-flowing way and by focusing on thought leadership
- Asking others how they prefer to work, and adapting your style to work cooperatively with them
- Asking yourself “Did I add the most value that I could today?”
Dr Newton gives many more techniques, examples and insights into how we can develop gravitas in her 250-page book, published by Seven Dials, an Hatchette UK company. Also available through Angus & Robertson, or at https://www.amazon.com.au/Authentic-Gravitas-Who-Stands-Out-ebook/dp/B07FZQ1VRC
or as an audio book read by Dr Newton: https://www.audible.com.au/search?keywords=Authentic+Gravitas+&ref=a_search_t1_header_search