Whenever you find yourself in a tricky situation, whether interrupting a meeting, telling someone you can’t do what they want or getting a difficult person to do something, it will be easier if you are perceived as naturally competent and confident – that you have authority.

The problem for some is that we unintentionally send an alternative negative message in many small ways throughout the day:
•”You know me and PowerPoint… never yet got every slide in the right place”
•”I’m hopeless at maths”
•”Could I possibly interrupt…? Is it OK to ask you…?”

We do it in non-verbal ways as well:
•Looking down while walking
•Avoiding eye contact
•Stooping and drooping
•Hugging papers to our chest and peeping over the top

If you are going to deal effectively with those tricky situations when they arise, it is important to get rid of the negative messages and replace them with a positive picture of a competent member of staff.

Walk the walk, talk the talk, dress to impress and join the party!

When you are in your comfort zone there won’t be a problem; your natural confidence in that situation will shine through. It is when you find yourself in a situation where are not so confident that you need to “act up” – play the role of the PA you’d like to be. The simple tips
below will combine to help you make a good impression throughout the day.

Walk the walk
Stand up. Try standing really straight. You’ve probably pushed up from the floor and are now standing stiffly. Leave your ears about where they are and gently relax down from them – you should now be looking confidently relaxed. Try to get in the habit of imagining yourself pegged by your ears, dropping gently from them, not pushing them skywards.

Look ahead. Think where your face is pointing as you walk, for many it is downwards; not only
does this make eye contact difficult, it also does your back no favours. As you walk, consciously
look down (as though making you’re not going to step in anything unpleasant!) and then straighten up and look ahead. You should feel your upper spine straighten and your chest open: a much better look.

Walk from your hips. Many people tense their bodies when they are under pressure. As part of that “relaxing from your ears”, try to relax your body as you walk. Make sure you are not gripping your thigh muscles and are walking freely from your hips. (As an aside, if you are holding your body tense, check that you are tightening up your stomach inwards rather
than sticking it out!)

Command your workspace. Sit to the back of your chair and try to keep your back reasonably straight (still hanging from those ears). If you’re talking to someone, relax back and keep an open upper body. If you are discussing something on paper, try to move so you are both looking at the paper together, not facing each other over it; it sends a more collaborative message Reduce the speed, increase the purpose. Don’t let pressure make you rush and scrabble. Apart from the risk of making mistakes, you will send a message of panic and lack of control. Move with controlled purpose.

Talk the talk
Listen to your voice. Does it rise when you’re feeling the pressure? Or does it go quiet and
shaky? Find somewhere private, talk aloud to yourself and practise:
•speaking softly then increasing the volume, but stopping before you shout – drop steadily down again
•dropping the pitch of your voice as low as you naturally can, then raising it as high as you can
•speaking fast, then gradually slow it until… you… sound… ridiculous – then speed up again

This will help you get much more control over how you speak and you can use this to increase your authority. For most people, aim for lower and slower! The more you practise privately, the easier it will be to get a grip when you need to.

Sometimes be a little more formal. It may help to replace the informal “Hi, how are you?” with, “Hello, how are you?” or “Good morning, how are you?”

Avoid the unnecessary sorry. If you’ve done something wrong, to say sorry quickly and clearly is very powerful. It’s all the other times that it sends the wrong message (“I’m sorry, I can’t today”; “I’m sorry, she’s in a meeting”;
“I’m sorry, I need to ask you…”). Sorry is being used to express regret but these add up to a negative, apologetic impression – a message of doing something wrong. Try replacing sorry with the name to fill the gap and make communication more personal (“Liz, I can’t today”; “She’s in a meeting, Sanjay”; “Amanda, can I ask you…”).

Stop flagging your faults. If you can’t be positive, be quiet:
•”I’m the office granny, been here since the days of the golfball typewriter.”
•”I’m hopeless with Excel – I just don’t get it.”
• “I hate minutes, I have sleepless nights over them.”

Dress to impress
Consider the whole picture. Stand back from a full-length mirror and try to look at all of yourself, not your face (or the thing you like least about yourself!). Check how you look from
behind, from the side, when you sit. See what happens to your clothes as you walk towards the mirror and away.

Wear what you feel good in. If one trouser/shoe combination makes your legs feel longer and makes you walk taller, that is what to wear on a difficult day.

Develop a look that suits you. Stop and think about the clothes you feel good in. Ask yourself why. Is it the length, cut, fabric or colour? Use this when you are planning what to wear for that tricky meeting or when buying clothes in the future.

Dress to belong, but make small statements. If you want to be seen as part of the group, you need to dress as part of the group. If they are all in suits, wear the jacket (or smart cardigan) but if they are in casualwear, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb in that jacket. However, you can draw a little attention with some statement jewellery or some great shoes (but see the next point!)

Accessorise, don’t dominate. Accessories are what they say; your clothes should not be accessorising your accessories!

Join the party
Engage. As you move around the workplace, look at people as you pass them, being ready to smile (but a permanent impersonal, smile plastered to your face is not a good look).

Remember snippets of information and use them positively. “Hi Andy, have you settled in to the new office?”

Accept compliments as gifts. If someone gave you a present, you wouldn’t throw it back at them, or smash it on the floor. But that’s what we do with compliments:
“That’s a nice sweater.”
“I’ve had it for years, it’s a bit baggy.”
“Your presentation went down well.”
“I hated it! I rushed through the figures.”
“Thank you for the minutes.”
“Ugh… nightmare.”

Practice a positive response, or at least keep it upbeat:
“It’s an old favourite.”
“I wasn’t comfortable with the figures but overall it was fine.”
“A pleasure.”

Use people’s names as you greet them (“Hello Toby, how are you?”)

Listen, don’t plan what you are going to say next and don’t top their story.

“I’ve got to do a report on the new system.”
“That’s a pain, I had to do one last year.”
“Have you done one before?”
“I’ve only done one, I found it hard to get the statistics right.”
“I know what you mean, I just put in loads of charts so they could work out what they wanted.”
“It is tricky; is there a previous one you can look at?”

Of course you can talk about yourself, but avoid conversations becoming a series of statements about self.

Assume the positive
If you interrupt a meeting you are minuting, they are likely to stop talking and look at you. You can choose to assume that they are irritated with you, or that they are waiting to hear
what you need to question… only one of these options will build your confidence! If someone walks past and ignores you, you can decide whether they think you are a waste of space, or whether they were lost in their own thoughts. Again only one is a good outcome – it’s your call!

Most of the time people aren’t looking at you, they are thinking about themselves. A few small steps will make sure that when they see you, the impression they get is of confident competence – the authority that will make them deal with you as an equal human.”

Joanna Gutmann works with a wide range of public and private-sector organisations with hands-on training to support effective meetings. Participants’ concerns about the quantity of reading for meetings has led to the transition of her face-to-face course ... (Read More)

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