When it comes to gravitas, many of us think that you either have it, or you don't. We tend to look at people who exude confidence under stress, act decisively, speak their minds, bounce back from stress, and are regarded by others as being important, with wonder and awe: Were they just born that way?

Maybe, but the good news is that many of the behaviors associated with gravitas can be learned. While we often associate gravitas with being able to command the room with our powerful presence, true gravitas is about self-management: making other people feel significant, important, and powerful, too. 

Here are three surprising behaviors you can act on today that will help build your gravitas:

1. Speak simply.

In their book The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E.B. White advised, "Omit needless words." (Pretty good modeling by the authors, wouldn't you say?) Far too often, we believe that using complex explanations, technical language, jargon, acronyms, etc. will make us seem smarter and more sophisticated. In fact, it does the opposite. It makes us seem less transparent and credible-- two things that can undermine your gravitas. 

In his aptly titled research paper, Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly, psychology professor Daniel Oppenheimer contends that our intuitions about what will impress others are often wrong. He explains that the ease of processing information is strongly associated with positive qualities such as confidence, intelligence, and capability. The longer and more complex your language, the less favorably people will judge you.

Good communicators add value to the business, and adding value to the business contributes to your gravitas.

2. Put your cell phone away.

Everyone has their cell phone out at meetings, right? Well, just because everyone does it doesn't make it right, or make it an effective relationship strategy. Research shows when two people are having a conversation, the presence of a phone on a table between them (or even in their sight lines) changes both the content of the conversation, as well as the degree of connection they feel towards each other.

Being at others' beck and call (or email or text) doesn't make you seem more important or indispensable. Having your cell phone visible to others makes you look distracted and distractible. It sends the message to others that your attention can be taken away at a moment's notice, and that you're waiting for something or someone more important to come along. It also sends a signal that you bore easily. 

If you want others to experience you as being present, connected, and committed, then you need to be fully present, connected to the people you're actually with, and committed to being a part of what's happening here and now. 

3. Share without oversharing.

This is important in two contexts: First, you want to share your ideas, perspectives, and solutions in meetings without dominating the conversation. This means that you pay attention to how much time you're using, as well as how much time is left for other people. Make space for others to contribute by saying, "I've shared my perspective here, and I want to get other people's thoughts, too."

If you run the risk of overcontributing, make notes in advance and stick to them. You might also give yourself a check mark on a piece of paper every time you speak up. If you notice those check marks adding up too quickly, withhold your comments to create room for your colleagues.

Second, you want to share personal information without sharing too much. This can be a tough balance, but is one that's important to manage if you want to be taken seriously. To display gravitas, you want to demonstrate skillful self-disclosure to by carefully considering what to reveal, when, to whom, and why.

In general, the purpose should be to move a task forward, as well as to build trust and engender better collaboration and teamwork. You should also learn about your organization's cultural norms as it relates to personal disclosure before you offer up your own. And of course, if you're always sharing, you don't make room for others to share what's going for them.

Whether you were born with gravitas, or are on the path to developing it, remember that making other people feel important is how they'll regard you as important, too.

Published on: Dec 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.