From his hospital bed, my dad hailed a passing guy in green scrubs, “Could you ask the doctor to step in here. I have a couple of questions before they do my test.”
The man stepped inside my dad’s room, and cocked his head: “I’m Dr. Raven.”
“Oh. Nice to meet you,” my dad said.
“I may look like I’m 15, but I’ve done thousands of these procedures.” The doctor turned to the laptop perched on the stand in the corner and began to click away.
During the next 10 minutes, I listened and observed as the slightly built physician did all the wrong things to overcome his physical appearance and establish credibility with my dad and the family:
- Use an arrogant, patronizing tone
- Dismiss questions with a wave of the hand as if he couldn’t be bothered to answer when lower-ranking people could handle those
- Spout unnecessarily technical jargon in his explanations
- Refer to research articles with which we, his audience, would be unfamiliar
- Use small, precise, circular gestures toward the body
- Keep his head cocked to the side and peer upward
Rather than irk an audience or irritate a boss, consider instead what you can do to increase your credibility when you have a very youthful appearance or other physical characteristics that detract from what the culture labels “authoritative.”
1. Stand tall: At 5’3, I understand the limitations of being short and having others tower over you during a conversation. Picture a scene from the sitcoms or Saturday comics: In a stare-down, who wins? You’ve got that right. Height suggests power, persuasion, authority, advantage. The next time you’re in a place to people watch (such as at the shopping mall, a sporting event, or the company cafeteria), watch those who walk erect and those who slump or slouch. Those who stand tall, with good posture, seem confident and in control of the situation.
2. Take up space: Never fade into the woodwork-or crowd. People who feel self-conscious often display that emotion by cowering physically. They pull their arms and legs close to their body. They stack their accessories such as laptops, tablets, notepads, briefcases, or handbags neatly away so as not to interfere with anyone near them. They back up and stand near the wall and out of the center of traffic and conversation.
Butconfident leaders feel that they have a right to be seen and heard. To increase your physical presence, use larger, firm, open gestures.
3. Move: Increase visibility by simply moving rather than standing rigidly in one spot as you deliver a presentation or even participate in a conversation with friends. Consider this: Have you ever had a decorative item in your house or office (a vase, a picture, a candle) in one spot for a long time and then moved it to a new spot and had friends notice and comment on it as if it were the first time they’d seen it? When something stays in the same place for a long time, it starts to blend it as part of the scenery. Movement brings recognition.
4. Speak up: Compensate for a small stature by projecting your voice. Breathe deeply enough to fill your lungs with air so that your voice has intensity when you speak. Lower tones are considered more authoritative in our culture.
5. Don’t cut yourself in half: Learn how to dress to make the most of your appearance. If you’re short, your clothing and hair matter a great deal-styles, color, shape, fabric. To look taller, a solid color from top to bottom elongates whereas a jacket of one color and skirt or pants of a different color “cuts” the visual and makes you look even shorter.
6. Have a classy come-back: When someone comments on your youthful appearance or slight build, rather than getting upset, turn the comment to memorable advantage: “Yes, people tell me I’m really going to love this when I’m fifty!” Or, “Yes, I can walk in to any department store in the country and find clothes that fit. I feel very fortunate.”
Young, short, good-looking-use these attributes to their full advantage. Credibility is all in your head-if you know how to make the right moves.