‘Gravitas’ was one of the ancient Roman virtues that denoted “seriousness.” Also translated as weight, dignity, and importance, it conveys a sense of responsibility and commitment to the task. In our modern society, gravitas indicates polish, grace in manner, and dignity in outward appearance. I’m guessing that speaking while on mute would not be considered speaking with grace and dignity!
In executive communication coaching, gravitas is often mentioned. Executives with gravitas are considered to have ‘weight,’ ‘authority,’ and ‘executive presence.’ They’re taken seriously and thought to have leadership qualities. As an Executive Communication Coach, I often observe people speaking with sentences that fade away or using a flat inflection. They do this purposefully with the mistaken idea that you must always be serious or low energy to have gravitas. We’ve come a long way from Roman times, where seriousness was the primary way to demonstrate gravitas. These inaccurate stereotypes can diminish your ability to demonstrate leadership and authority in your current role.
Based on the thousands and thousands of hours we’ve logged as Executive Communication Coaches at The Speech Improvement Company, here are our top five strategies to demonstrate gravitas:
- Consider the level of trust. Leaders at some companies are highly collaborative, and in others, it’s an ‘Answer First Culture’ where being concise is ideal. The value of trust in relationships is pivotal to maintaining gravitas. Do others trust you to share the right amount of detail at the right time? Think of the qualities you look for in someone you trust and ask yourself if you demonstrate these same traits in your daily interactions. We identify opportunities for each of our clients to position themselves as trusted advisors, both internally with colleagues and externally with clients or customers.
- Hone your “listening” presence. Many of us are fatigued by back-to-back zooms and sitting in one spot for hours on end. Because of this, our faces when listening can appear low energy or even annoyed. When you listen, are you actively listening, or do you only “look like” you are? Have you ever typed up an email when someone else is speaking in an internal virtual meeting? We are all guilty of this distracted listening from time to time. People with gravitas listen with intention. Focus your total attention on the other person, listen intently and actively to what they’re saying. People can feel it when you are not truly listening, even in video conferences.
- Speak clearly. Mumbling, combining words too quickly can send a message, and that what you are saying doesn’t matter. You might have insightful content or strategies, but you will lose your impact if the listeners can’t Hear and Understand it. Record yourself at your next meeting and listen to the audio. Are your words clear and formed separately, or do they get jumbled together? By learning how to speak clearly, your content can be both heard and understood more easily. Clarity can communicate confidence and gravitas.
- Analyze the concept of gravitas at your specific organization. Every organization is different, and therefore there is no definite list of exactly how to demonstrate gravitas. Since gravitas can be subjective within an organization, you need careful analysis. For instance, the concept of dress for success has become an outdated way to establish gravitas. Today, major players like Apple, Google, and Quicken Loans have a casual dress code. This casual appearance trickles into traditional companies, too, as JP Morgan, IBM, BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, and General Electric have relaxed dress code restrictions in the last five years. If no one wears suit jackets where you work, suddenly dressing more formally will do little to increase your gravitas.
- Work with an experienced communication coach to cultivate self-awareness. We all have verbal and nonverbal habits we may not be aware of, from vocal fillers (‘Um’) to getting off-topic. A skilled coach will help you look more objectively at how you communicate, both internally with colleagues and externally with clients or customers. For example, when coaching a client, I might observe that when they speak, they will often “debate themselves,” meaning they speak to both sides of a topic. While there is value in seeing both sides, we would work through a specially designed exercise to determine when they need to alert colleagues to both sides of an issue, and alternately when it’s more valuable to take a stand. As authorities in this arena, our coaches go beyond self-awareness and into more profound long-term behavior change.
Demonstrating gravitas is one of the most requested topics with many of our 1:1 clients. Most of us know gravitas when we see it, but the process of nurturing this leadership skill can be intricate. Success lies in understanding and expressing the appropriate nuances.
Use these five strategies as a starting point, then ask an Executive Communication Coach to help you achieve your goals. This list is merely a snapshot of this critical and robust trait, and it’s worth a deeper dive into how you can inspire trust, leadership, and authority in your current role.