In my last article about gravitas, I talked about the importance of slowing down and, ultimately, of stillness.

Let’s extend that idea a step further. We recognise gravitas when we encounter a set of attitudes and behaviours that conform to our expectations of authority, credibility and wisdom.

What makes gravitas does depend, to a degree, on the culture and society you live and work in. My expertise is in Western, English-speaking cultures. But there is one thing that I am confident transcends all human cultures.

If gravitas means not rushing, this applies to your speech, as well as to your movement. A steady, deliberate pace conveys your confidence in what you are saying.

As a bonus, speaking slowly increases your control over your speech and your ability to relax your vocal cords, allowing your voice to express all of its natural resonances. This will allow people to hear the components that are at the bottom end of your tonal register. Deeper tones tend to convey authority.

People who are absolutely confident don’t need to shout, so keep the volume down too. When people choose to strain to catch your important ideas, you know you have got their attention. And, having worked hard to hear you, they wil value what you say to a far higher degree.

The ultimate in slowing your speech, the linguistic equivalent of still… is silence. Yet, this is something few can master. Used at the right time, it can be a devastating contribution to your argument. How much more subtle and understated can your contribution be?

If you don’t have an insight or contribution to make, remember that smart people will always find something smart to say. But Ludwig Wittgenstein was wise when he said: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Don’t be afraid to not have an opinion or an answer: no insight is better than shallow insight.

But silence has a power all of its own. I constantly advise the people I coach that, in a conversation, the person who is most comfortable with silence has an advantage: they have control. You can use silence as a question, as an answer, and as a way to win an argument.

A Question

Have you noticed how desperate most people are to fill a silence in a conversation. If you ask a question, you’ll get an answer. But if you respond to the answer with silence, you will often get more. Desperate to fill the silence, the other person will say anything to ease their discomfort. Sometimes they will give you a new answer to your question – something buried deeper, and perhaps something they didn’t intend to let out.

An Answer

And silence is a great answer in itself. We often rush to give our answers to people’s questions, fearing any delay indicates we don’t have a response readily to hand. So clearly, we are poorly informed or a slow thinker. This is wrong. Your quick answer says to me: “my question was easy, the answer was obvious, I’m a fool.” Why would you want to make me feel like a fool?

Of course, you don’t easily make me feel like a fool. So maybe your quick answer makes me think: “you jumped in, you didn’t think, you don’t care much about my question, you didn’t listen to it’s subtleties, you’re giving me a stock answer, you’re a fool.” Why would you want to look a fool?

A slow answer, following a silence, on the other hand, says to me: “you paused, you thought about my question, it was a good question and you recognized that, you paid me the respect of thinking afresh about how to answer it, you’re a wise person, I should listen to your answer.” Why wouldn’t you pause?

An Argument

When you are debating a topic, sometimes a silence is the strongest point you make. It lets your audience make your point for you. It can say not “I have nothing to say” but instead “what you expect me to say is not worth saying”. Silence creates space for listeners to fill in the gaps.

 

Use silence wisely, and it adds weight to your words. Silence is the real power behind gravitas.


 

Dr Mike Clayton is a speaker and the author of 13 books, including How to Speak so People Listen, and Smart to Wise.

Audiences love Mike’s seminars and talks on influence, authority, charisma, and gravitas. Now he has also developed a 2 hour, 20 module video course on How to Develop Gravitas, and readers can access this at the discounted price of $29, by clicking the image below.

Fedora Gravitas Cover

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