How to emote authority – a quick reminder

“When I first met you, I thought you were kind of a b*tch.” Am I allowed to say that on LinkedIn? Regardless, friends and coworkers say that to me. This reminder of my inability to make a good first impression shows I have a lot to learn.

My “softer” side is something I need to address, but we’re not here to talk about me. We’re here to talk about the benefits behind asserting authority. The ability to command a room – be it at a party or in a boardroom – is not innate and can be  learned.

This morning, I overheard a conversation between the deputy divisional director and a sales guy at my company. He told the newbie, “I can tell who will be successful by the way they walk around the office.”

Here’s what he meant; and here’s what I do.

Make your body big by having your shoulders back. When  you sit down at a meeting, place your elbows on the armchair and spread out your materials to make sure they cover a large area.

Make your body high by sitting up straight – in meetings and while at your desk. Shoulders back and chin parallel to the ground. This little shift makes youlook authoritative even if you don’t feel authoritative. Fake it ’til you make it.

Take the dominant seat – I always sit at the head of the table in meetings. It’s important to be able to have a line of direct eyesight to everyone in the room. It shows them that their opinions are valued. Conversely, if I’m not leading the meeting, if I’ve made a mistake and need to apologize, or if I just need to show respect in general, I will sit next to or beside that person. This shows that I know my place in the hierarchy, am willing to learn and respect them.

Don’t move out of the way of others. There are obvious exceptions to this rule (i.e., you’re the one ‘merging into the lane’ or if you’re a man confronting a woman or if you’re a human being at a crossroads with a pregnant, elderly or disabled person.) These exceptions notwithstanding, don’t let someone take you off your path. In America, we walk on the right and pass on the left. I don’t scurry, so if someone is confused by this I will simply slow my pace or stand there until they figure it out. When walking around the office, walk with a purpose. Ask yourself, “where am I going?” I don’t mean literally to your desk or a conference room. I mean where are you going in life? That will determine how you walk and no one should stand in that path.

Get up. If an email conversation goes beyond three volleys of responses, then don’t respond. Get up and go talk to that person. It’s all too easy nowadays to not have a face-to-face conversation, which actually makes it easier for you to stand out and assert your authority. By getting up and looking someone in the eye you are more likely to temper misunderstanding. This also shows that you aren’t afraid to tackle issues head-on, which is very powerful behavior.

Stop wearing headphones unless you’re writing or researching. There is no reason for it. And do not, for the love of all things beautiful, walk around the office with your headphones in your ears. We’re too old to be carrying around an adult version of a blankie.

Timeliness. Sh*t happens (again, am I allowed to curse on LinkedIn, I am new to this), but if you wake up earlier and arrive at the office before 9 a.m., it sets the tone for your entire day. You will feel in control of what happens to you. Instead of feeling flustered and agitated, this time will allow you to mentally plan out the course of your day. Start by making your bed. Even if everything else goes wrong you will still feel that you’ve accomplished at least one thing. General McRavengave this advice in an excellent anecdote:

“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

That’s some powerful sh*t.

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