6 Tactics That Project Authority

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May 17, 2017

“Authority is 20 percent given, 80 percent taken.”

~ Peter Ueberroth
former commissioner of Major League Baseball

Words to live by if you are, or are planning to be, a leader.

But how precisely do we ‘take’ or acquire authority when it’s not given or assumed? Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University, offers some suggestions for us in his book Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.

1. Be aware of your audience

Because you may not see those you hope to influence every day, make sure you’re ‘on’ whenever you are with them. Even in momentary interactions you want to convey energy, competence and trustworthiness. To signal that you care about and respect those around you, put away technological gadgets during meetings and be fully attentive – this rare action will have a powerful effect.

2. Watch your posture and gestures

You can do a lot with what you have. You can dress up, an act that conveys power and status – to look like you belong in the position to which you aspire. Wear colors that enhance your appearance and stand up straight rather than slouching. Moving forward and toward someone is a gesture that connotes power, as does standing closer to others. Gestures should be short and forceful, and look people in the eye, which connotes power, honesty and directness. Looking down or away causes others to think you’re dissembling.

3. Use memory to access desired emotions

Sometimes you’ll be called upon to display emotions you don’t feel – confidence when you’re uncertain, anger when you’re fearful, and compassion or empathy when you may be feeling disappointment. Go within yourself to a time or event when you did feel the emotion needed. Recalling that event will bring back the associated feelings so you can tap into authentic feelings from a different place and time.

4. Set the stage

Settings can convey power and status, and the settings you create for yourself have a lot to do with your ability to command respect. Too often we’re inattentive to how our physical settings can help or hinder our aims, although we may not always have control of our physical environment. When you do, take advantage of the opportunity.

5. Take your time in responding

One reason we don’t come across as effectively or forcefully as we might is that we begin to speak while we’re flustered or unsure of the situation. Don’t feel the pressure to fill dead air – collect your thoughts (and yourself) before beginning to speak. When you find yourself in a situation for which you’re unprepared or blindsided, breathe and get your nerves under control – you’ll be much more effective than if you rush into a response.

6. Display anger instead of sadness or remorse

While controversial, when you work with colleagues of equal rank whom you want to influence, displaying anger is useful. Research by social psychologist Larissa Tiedens shows that people who express anger are seen “as dominant, strong, competent and smart,” although too much anger may make you appear less nice. People rated coworkers who expressed anger as better potential role models, and in negative situations, high-status individuals were expected to feel more angry than sad or guilty – the emotions attributed to low-status.