This post is 100% inspired by a recent LinkedIn article one of my closest friends sent me the other day.
The article, by Di Mayze, is called ‘Why Gravitas is Overrated’.
It’s a funny old word, isn’t it? Gravitas. Especially when you look at it too long, or say it over and over. GRAV-IT-AS.
The Google definition of gravitas, in case you’re wondering, is: dignity, seriousness, or solemnity of manner.
synonyms: gravity, loftiness. grandeur, decorum, sobriety, sedateness
In her brilliant article, Di recalls being criticised for having no gravitas, and questions why it is held in such high regard in the workplace over other, much more positive qualities.
My friend and I are definitely members of Di’s ‘No Gravitas’ club. We’ve lamented countless times, light-heartedly, about our respective lack of gravitas. I think I’m correct in saying that both of us, at certain points in our careers, were criticised for having no gravitas. Or for needing more of it.
And so it has become a long-standing joke between us: “You’ll never get x job because you’ve got no gravitas, remember.” (My friend got the job.)
“You’ll never launch your own business because you’ve got no gravitas.” (I launched my business.)
I clearly remember being pulled up on my lack of gravitas. It was in a performance review at the London agency I worked at in my 20s, probably my last review before I handed in my notice.
The review was conducted by a senior director who I didn’t really look up to: she was often disorganised and distracted and wasn’t always on the ball. She was also loud, not easily intimidated and was able to come up with outlandish ideas in brainstorm meetings – when she wasn’t staring into space a bit vacantly.
Those qualities – loudness, being unafraid and coming up with big ideas – were held in very high regard at the agency, so the fact that she often couldn’t answer simple questions about a project without a very long delay didn’t hinder her career progress one bit.
My career at the agency was definitely hindered though, by my lack of gravitas, which was what the director told me in that performance review.
And it was probably also hindered by my perceived introversion and the fact that I didn’t always speak up in those dreaded brainstorm meetings.
Looking back, I can sort of see what she was getting at.
If you look at two of the synonyms of gravitas, loftiness and grandeur, I definitely didn’t have those. Whereas some of my peers definitely did: the ability to go into a meeting and talk bullishly at clients, in the hope that they would forget to ask why a project went over budget and why their product didn’t ever appear on national TV.
I don’t think I talk bullishly to anyone, nor am I ever likely to start.
And I would go into client meetings and worry about the blown budget and not getting them on national TV because we’d not done what we said we were going to do. Which I suppose could be perceived as a lack of gravitas. But isn’t it also called having empathy? And being principled?
And – if we go back to the true definitions of gravitas – who wants to be solemn and grave and serious anyway?
So, here’s the challenge. Have you been criticised for having – or not having – certain qualities at work? Can you turn this criticism on its head and reframe your qualities in a positive light instead?
Perhaps you’ve got a long-held belief about yourself, derived from your own negative self-talk, that needs to be shaken up.
Maybe you’ve been told you’re ‘too quiet’, but you’re a great, empathetic listener which means you’ll always put your clients/colleagues/customers at ease.
Maybe you hate being pressured into coming up with ideas during brainstorm meetings, and know your ideas will flow when you’re given some time to think.
Maybe you’ve been criticised for being too cautious, but your pragmatism ensures that targets are achieved and resources aren’t stretched.
Looking at your qualities with a fresh outlook, knowing your unique strengths and taking pride in them will help when any criticism does come your way – and remember that criticism is often just one person’s opinion anyway.
Bye for now x