Women in Consulting
What a privilege it was to be at IBM Southbank for the Young Management Consultancies Association’s Women in Consulting event!
There was a great buzz in the room and the comments about how women (and men) could better promote themselves and be confident in their career development were fantastic to hear.
Here we share the content for those who want a refresher on the key content and those who were unable to make it….
What is gravitas?
We explored on the night the idea that gravitas was about ‘gravity’ or authority, but that this usually came to life through calm confidence, keeping it together under pressure, being personable and having credibility. A few people also spoke about physical aspects like the tone of voice someone uses, how they use silence, their posture and pace. This led on rather beautifully to a discussion about how we use our bodies to have great impact with our colleagues and clients.
Physicality, posture and gravitas
There is no doubt that a strong posture, assertive handshake, good breathing and an even, well-paced tone of voice communicates confidence. So how can you develop this? Caroline Goyder’s book on Gravitas and Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on how our bodies change our minds are great starting points for learning about using your body, your breathing and your voice more effectively.
If you want other people to believe in you, then you need to believe in yourself, but that is far easier said than done. We all talk about confidence, but what is that really? What if you believed that confidence was simply the things you say to yourself? There is of course more to it than that, but as a starting point, challenging the things you say to yourself is a great launchpad. What do you say or think to yourself when you are not feeling confident? Chances are you will come up with a list similar to our delegates at the event:
I can’t do this.
I’m not smart enough.
I’m going to fail.
I’m going to look stupid.
What if I let others down?
You probably tell yourself something very negative or ask yourself a question that drives negative, risk-averse thinking. So now consider what you think to yourself when you are feeling confident. Take some time on this, what were you actually thinking the last time you were in the zone, doing great work because deep down you knew you could?
What’s interesting is that people often come up with a list like:
I can do this.
I was asked to do this because I have the skills.
If I get stuck on this, I can always ask questions.
Other people believe I can do this.
But the research, such as that on the concept of “flow” or “being in the zone” from Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, shows that we are thinking nothing of the sort. When we are feeling confident deep-down, we are so focused on the task that we do not have all this self-talk, we are simply thinking through what to do. Moment by moment we are planning action, taking action and looking for some form of feedback or self-monitoring on how well our action worked.
So what if we used this as our challenge to less confident thoughts? When you find yourself thinking “I can’t do this,” what if instead of trying to calm yourself with glib statements like “yes you can,” you instead focused on the task in hand and asked yourself, “how can I make sure I do the best job possible right now?”
Whereas the “yes you can” approach can lead to an internal disagreement, the practical question leads you to thinking about how you do a great job. That means planning action and taking action – which far better reflects our thinking patterns when we are in the zone. Give it a try – you never know, it might work well for you.
Often when we are working hard to influence someone or make a good impression, we focus on what we want to say. The problem with this is that we end up giving some long monologue and losing people along the way. Breaking up what you want to say with questions, or even starting with questions, means that you are showing interest in the other person, which can also result in you learning more about them and helping you influence them more effectively.
Purpose and passion
This was the aspect of the evening that seemed most surprising for many of the people in the room, perhaps because early on in a career many people have not necessarily considered what they are passionate about. If you want to leave a lasting impression on people at networking events, or with your peers or that senior colleague you want to influence, then you will need to connect with emotions rather than logic alone. As Maya Angelou famously coined, “we do not remember what people said, but we remember how they made us feel.” Connect with your emotions when you are speaking and you will connect with others’ emotions too.
An example of this could be simple at a networking event when someone asks you the standard and often awkwardly answered question, “what do you do?” Rather than sticking with the standard, “I’m a consultant at Deloitte” or “I’m an accountant,” add something memorable by saying something like, “but what I’m really passionate about is seeing the difference…” or, “that’s the job title, but what it really means is I get to spend all day… It’s such a privilege.”
When such statements are said with feeling (and you actually mean it, authenticity is critical here), then you will be far more memorable than the usual.
So there you have it, a few highlights from the event. And you might notice that nothing there is really specific to women, these things are relevant to everyone in their career development and influencing.
Yet there seems to be something powerful about getting a group of women together and letting them know they are not alone in continuing to work against gender inequality.