August 23, 2017

Lesson #10: Demeanor — Is Your Attitude in Check?

You hear the expressions all the the time: he has a calm demeanor, she has grace under pressure or they won the game because they kept their cool. However you describe it, your demeanor (or outward facing behavior) tells a story about you as a person and as a leader.

You may, in fact, be a total mess inside but your demeanor may not show it. If it does, it will diminish your creditability and your influence.

As a leader, the way you carry yourself, how you react to situations and your presence in a room will tell volumes to others. You might not like it but your demeanor, more than your accomplishments, intelligence, wit, dress or even appearance, matters a lot.

A Reflection of Your Attitude

Think of your demeanor as how you approach situations. Are you calm and collected or are you scared and freaked out? Your attitudes about certain people, places and situations shows through in how it changes your demeanor.

As a leader, you want to give off a confident, relaxed and in control demeanor. That starts with you attitude.

Your attitude will change given the person, place, thing or event you are interacting with. Understanding why your attitude changes and how it changes will make it easier for you to keep your demeanor consistent.

Even though your attitudes may change, it’s important that your demeanor stay as consistent as possible. Remember, your demeanor is your outward facing behavior while your attitudes are your inner feelings.

Attitudes can and do change over time but your demeanor or how you carry yourself should remain as constant as possible.

If you struggle to keep a consistent demeanor, react haphazardly to situations or just can’t control your emotions, your ability to lead even yourself will suffer. If you want to be more consistent in your interactions and improve your attitude control, then try some of the techniques listed below:

  • Look for the positive: Positive approaches to situations will help make you more likely to exude a positive demeanor. By looking for the positive, you can quickly break through problems.

  • Tap into your empathy: By tapping into your empathy you can immediately come across as knowledgeable and have actionable ideas to try.

  • Be data driven: When you let data rule your decision making, it automatically says that you value facts instead of emotions. This is an important factor in sorting out conflicts.

  • Don’t take it personal: The perception of personal attacks can sour your mood and cloud your decision making. It also affects your demeanor by putting you in a defensive mode, which makes you appear on edge.

  • Be slow to judge: Our judgements about situations can happen quickly. Usually our first impressions are correct but can be influenced by who we interact with first. Make judgements once you feel that all the information has been presented.

  • Make yourself calmer and calmer: Under stress, people tend to get more and more anxious. This will tend to feed on itself within a group of people. By remaining clam and getting calmer, you show control of your own emotions and that of the situation.

  • Be grateful: Graciousness is a wonderful trait to practice. By being gracious, we demonstrate our kindness and courtesy for others. This is especially important when proven right or winning. The gracious contender will be remembered more fondly than the sore loser.

  • Explain your thought process: Your decisions will have detractors that will openly criticize you. The best way to combat this is to explain decisions by walking people through how you arrived at your decision. This exudes a fair, honest and thoughtful demeanor like nothing else.

Behaviors, Attitudes and Demeanor

We are just starting to scratch the surface of how your attitude can reflect on your demeanor. There is another component we need to look into. That’s your behaviors.

Behaviors are the actions you take in different situations. Behavior is driven by your knowledge of the facts, social norms and your attitudes.

Behavior is different than demeanor in that demeanor is how you approach a situation whereas your behaviors are what you actually do. They can be one in the same but there has been many a time where someone appears calm and collected but when the situations change, they revert back to some ingrained behavior that shows what they are truly like.

When dealing with behavior modification, it’s best, wait for it, to take it in small incremental pieces (I told you I’m a fan of focusing on the incremental). By doing this, you can work on modifying your behavior with the maximum likelihood of success.

There are many to modify your behavior. Some range from the KITA (Kick in the Ass) to positive reinforcement to hypnotherapy.

Research has shown that the best way to modify behavior is to use intrinsic motivators coupled with extrinsic pushes to make the new behavior stick.

For example, let’s say you sometimes snap at people for no good reason. Usually you snap when under stress. This is a bad behavior that you want to change.

The first question to ask is why you want to change. Next, you need to find an intrinsic motivator to stop (I feel guilt and worry after I do it). Once that’s found, you need to get an extrinsic motivator to keep you honest about your goal (like telling a friend or co-worker to tell you every time you snap). By using both, they reinforce each other.

Demeanor Modification Techniques

Now that we have a good idea about how attitudes and behaviors mix to form your demeanor, lets look at some ways to improve your demeanor so that you can better lead yourself and others.

Technique #1: Find Someone’s Demeanor You Admire

Role models are great to aspire too. They teach us, by example, the right way to behave. Pick someone you admire and study how they interact with situations. Ask others what they think of this persons demeanor and how it relates to yours.

Technique #2: Critically Assess Yourself

A self assessment can teach you a lot about how you approach situations and how that affects your demeanor. One warning — don’t be too negative. This is not about unearthing every single bad thing about you, your demeanor or your behaviors. It’s really about understanding what you need to work on.

Technique #3: Don’t Be The First to Talk — Just Listen

It’s amazing what a little attention can do. By simply listening to others, you immediately come across as respectful and caring — two important demeanor traits to foster.

Listening also allows you to absorb facts and attitudes that others feel. It’s also a powerful technique to calm others down, especially if you mix in a few “I understand” or “Tell me more.”

Technique #4: Wait Before You React

This is similar to being slow to judge but is more about the actions you will take, given the situation. It’s best to wait to take action until all of the facts are presented or action is necessary.

Waiting to react demonstrates that you take a deliberate approach to decisions. It’s an important trait during stressful situations where action is necessary but has consequences.

This does not mean you take so much time that you get analysis paralysis. What it does mean is that you make decisions, given the best available data under time constraints.

Technique #5: Empathize or Sympathize But Never Pity

One of the most power statements a leader can utter is “I’m sorry.” Said in the right context, for the right reasons, it’s one of the most powerful two word combinations ever.

The reason “I’m sorry” is so powerful is that it immediately changes the tone from confrontational to mutual understanding. By truly understanding the situation and having authentic empathy or sympathy for it, you gain instant creditability.

The entire mood changes from blame to let’s find a way to fix this. You don’t even have to be responsible for the issue or event but if you are, taking responsibility for it turns the focus to solutions instead of blame.

People may still be angry but they are now angry at the situation not you. If you are not responsible, then it shows them you are eager to help them fix the problem, which projects a caring and in charge demeanor.

Technique #6: Repeat The Facts

Facts can get muddled in the heat of debate. By repeating the facts, you solidify the foundation of knowledge. This foundation will be what you come back to again and again to build clarity and consensus.

Knowledge of the facts demonstrates you care about making informed decisions. It also impacts your demeanor by making you more at ease. If you are fact and data driven, you don’t need to get emotional about a situation — thus making you appear to be more in control.

Technique #7: Ask How You Can Help

Another powerful phrase is “How can I help.” Leaders who utter these words demonstrate their willingness to take action. By committing to action, you show that you care.

Even if you can’t help as much as you want, making the genuine offer will leave a positive impression. Be warned that offers of help must be followed up on quickly or you may get the reputation of making empty promises.

A Leaders Demeanor

All of these techniques are meant to build a demeanor that exudes confidence, control, caring and passion. These four traits are what most supporters are looking for in a leader. Supporters that have put their confidence, control, caring and passion into you want to feel that their destiny is in good hands.

Take-a-way: Always carry yourself in a calm, respectful way. Every glib comment or odd look will be noticed.

Things to Ponder

  1. The next time you are in a challenging situation, pay particular attention to the people that have a calm demeanor. Study how they interact with others. Reflect on this by writing a paragraph or two on your observations.

  2. Think about what makes you nervous, anxious or lose your cool. List them on a sheet of paper (no more than 5). Beside each one, write down why. Beside the why, write down one thing you can do to reduce the behavior.

  3. The next time you are put in a stressful situation, don’t be the first to talk. Instead, listen to what others have to say. Write a paragraph on the situation and how your silence influenced the situation.

  4. Enlist a friend or co-worker that you trust to observe you as you interact with people. Have them explain your demeanor in certain circumstances. You can even take it as far as having a special code or sign that tells you when you are starting to loose control.

Exploring Further


This post is part of a series called Leading from Within, a FREE course on how to lead your most important supporter — you. If you landed here via other means (like Google, Twitter or a friend), you can learn more about the course and sign up here.