Here at Elevate we just completed the first session of our exciting new ‘Unlocking…’ series, Unlocking Visibility, with a group of fantastic women who are committed to unlocking their potential for the benefit of themselves and their businesses.
In our last session, Unlocking Visibility, we spoke all about gravitas – not only exploring how we build it, but also what we need to avoid to ensure we don’t sabotage our own.
Are you acting and talking in a way that emulates those things to the people around you? It’s important to be sincere about your message. But it’s more important to be intentional with the language you use and not just use words automatically that may not actually be appropriate for the context that you’re in.
What is gravitas?
One of the challenges of gravitas is that it can be many things, such as:
A case study to think about…
During the session, we shared an interesting story about a coaching client I had many years ago. For the sake of this blog post, we’ll call her Geraldine. Geraldine was in a very senior position in banking and was incredibly smart. One day Geraldine found herself faced with a challenging situation – her team had spent hours preparing a proposal for a client. Thanks to a morning of huge market turmoil, the proposal was no longer as compelling.
Geraldine knew that they would need more time. She emailed the client, CC-ing her boss, and requested a 48-hour extension due to the recent turmoil. She said she was sorry for the inconvenience, and assured the client that she wanted to ensure their proposal had the very best solution for them. She signed off by asking the client to let her know if this was okay and wished them all the best.
Within minutes of hitting the send button, her boss marched across the office to her desk, absolutely furious. To him, the email she had sent completely undermined them and presented the company in a poor light. He said it showed she lacked confidence. Geraldine was absolutely startled.
What made her boss so angry?
The questions we presented to our attendees, and the questions I present to you now, are: what went wrong with this email? Why did Geraldine’s boss have such an angry reaction?
We received a lot of really great replies from our attendees, which ranged from: suggesting that she should have called the client instead of sending an email, that she should have communicated with her manager first, and that she should have framed the email in a more positive light as an opportunity to look for better options for the client.
Let’s not forget that this case study is a real example – and when Geraldine told me this story, I asked the same question, “What did your boss not like about it?” The answer was really interesting. He didn’t like the word “sorry”. That was it!
What are you projecting onto other people when you say sorry?
“Sorry” is a great example of a gravitas-sabotaging word. When you say sorry, you’re telling people you’ve made a mistake. As human beings, we all make mistakes! But often people say “sorry” automatically, even if it’s not as a result of their actions.
If you’re overusing this word, people are going to start thinking – even subconsciously – that you’re a person who makes a lot of mistakes. They might infer that you’re not careful or detail-oriented, and they might start to question your professional integrity.
If you’re finding that, in situations like the case study above, you’re saying sorry and it’s not advancing the conversation or landing in the way you want it to, then substitute it with “thank you”.
Overusing the word “sorry” can undermine gravitas. That said, underusing it undermines your gravitas too! So how do we know when it’s appropriate and when you should substitute?
The way you talk to people should build connection and trust.
Imagine you are late for a meeting. Before you walk in the room, pause for a second and think about why you’re in that situation – why are you late? If you walk into the room with a “sorry”, you’re immediately telling people that it’s your fault. People might assume that you’re late because you’re disorganised, when actually it could be because your previous meeting ran over, which was out of your control.
Instead, say “thank you for your patience.” This tells people that the situation was beyond your control – and therefore not something you are responsible for– but you recognise the inconvenience it has caused and you’re thanking people for their understanding.
What difference does it make?
Let’s bring it back to Geraldine. In our Elevate session, we went back over the email and thought about how we could make it better. We substituted “sorry about this” to “thank you in advance for your understanding.”
We asked all our attendees what they thought – whether the new email was better than the first, worse than the first, or had not made a difference. The results speak for themselves:
- 91 per cent thought the new version saying “thank you” was better
- 2 per cent thought it was worse
- 4 per cent didn’t see any difference
- 3 per cent weren’t sure
The moral of the story is that it pays to take a little bit of extra time and care to read through what you’ve written, or think about what you’re going to say and try to remove the words that could potentially be sabotaging your gravitas. Are you unintentionally taking responsibility for things that are not your fault?
We’re not banning “sorry”!
This is not to say that you shouldn’t ever use the word sorry. It’s an incredibly powerful word when used in the right context. Sometimes if you don’t say sorry when you should, you can also risk undermining your gravitas. We’ve all been in a situation where somebody has done something that they should apologise for but they elect not to. In these situations, a quick “sorry” before you move on would make it so much better!
Choosing to use “thank you” instead is not about shirking responsibility. If you do need to apologise for an oversight or something that was within your control – such as being late due to misreading your calendar or an error in a document– keep it short and follow with a thank you, for instance “thank you for bringing this to my attention”. This shows that you’re taking responsibility for what happens next and moving on.
Our Unlocking Visibility session gave us all a great insight into how words we use every day without really thinking about them can be secretly sabotaging us. You have the power to teach people how to treat you, so be mindful about what you’re telling them with your language.
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