When an old friend said that she always considered me to be a woman of poise, I thought it was one of the greatest compliments I had ever received. Defined as a “graceful and elegant bearing in a person,” poise reflects the way a woman carries herself in a gentle, yet strong and confident way. I think poise in a woman (or man) is quite beautiful and see the value and importance of cultivating it every day.
It used to be that young women went to charm (or finishing) school to learn how to walk, stand, sit, eat and talk with grace. Nowadays, for a variety of reasons, those schools are few and far between. It’s easy to think that things like etiquette, charm or poise are old fashioned social norms only of importance to brides, diplomats or royalty, but there isn’t a single thing we do, say or think that does not follow or break a rule of etiquette.
On my 12th birthday, I was given a small book about charm and etiquette. As a young girl just starting to understand and embrace my femininity, I loved the guidance on learning how to properly hold a knife and fork, walk with confidence and respond to rude behavior with grace. There was also much emphasis on good manners and kindness, that sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. Emily Post once wrote, “the greatest asset that a man or woman or child can have is charm.” True charm, she advised, is attained not only from following a particular set of rules, but also, “made smooth and polished by the continuous practice of kindness.” I soaked it up and to this day, I still try to practice much of what I learned at such an impressionable age because poise is something that needs to be practiced and maintained everyday.
Cultivating poise requires self-awareness about how you communicate to your world through your movements and actions. I once read that developing poise is akin to learning to put on makeup. Just as makeup is often used to present your best face, poise is about putting your personal best forward. It has been a long time since I received my first book on charm and since then I’ve come to realize that being a woman of poise means different things to different people. Sure, we can agree that it has a great deal to do with elegance, but it’s also a celebration of one’s femininity. It’s not simply about perfect posture or stylish clothing. Poise exudes a sense of calm, confidence and inner grace. It’s also having the good manners to treat people with respect and kindness. In other words, it’s acting with decorum at all times while confidently navigating the trickiest of social dilemmas.
I try to practice and maintain my poise everyday, but life happens. On those days I try to be kind to myself and know that I’ll try to do better the next day. I strive for inner grace as a woman andas a mother because I would like my son to think of me as a woman of poise. I’d also like to teach him the basic rules of etiquette in order for him to be a true gentleman, having the old fashioned chivalry combined with an authentic respect for women. More importantly, I want him to have charm, the kind that has been “made smooth and polished by the continuous practice of kindness.” How do you cultivate poise?
Tips on Cultivating Poise.
1 | Etiquette.
Learn more about etiquette. As style, manners and etiquette are some things that evolve over time, through the years I’ve grown a small collection of books that provide rules and brim with advice on many social and business etiquette issues. For more advice and tips on etiquette essentials, a great place to start would be The Emily Post Institute. Spanning five generations, the Post family maintains and evolves the standards of etiquette that Emily Post established with her very influential book Etiquette in 1922. According to the Posts, though times have changed, the principles of good manners remain constant. Manners are a keen awareness of the feelings of others.
2 | Posture.
Sit and stand up straight. Posture plays a large part in the visual aspect of poise. Hold your head up high with your shoulders back at all times—when sitting, standing or walking. To stay limber, spend a few minutes every half hour and stretch, walk or stand. When you have to work at a desk, sit up with good, tall posture with your shoulders dropped. It’s a good habit to practice. Strengthen your core, the muscles of your abdomen and pelvic area. These muscles form the foundation of good posture. When you practice these few things, your body will adjust into a perfect line. You’ll feel stronger and clothes will look better on you!
3 | Slow down.
If you tend to be stressed or in a hurry all of the time, find ways to calm yourself; slow down your mind and maintain your composure. Plan to arrive 15 minutes early to every appointment. This practice minimizes the stress that arises from traffic, getting lost or underestimating travel time. It allows you time to slow down and gain your composure before a meeting or event. Also, establish a regular time to meditate, pray or practice yoga everyday. Practices like meditation and yoga can also give the mind a respite from all the noise.
4 | Smile and be kind.
Always be gracious and polite in your interactions with friends, family, colleagues and strangers. Everyone needs encouragement and words of support from time to time. Every morning ask yourself, “What can I say that will be encouraging or kind to someone?”or “Where is it that I can add value to a situation or to a person’s life?”You’ll be recognized as a person that brings joy and value into the lives of others.
5 | Practice until it becomes effortless.
It takes time and practice to cultivate poise. Be kind to yourself. When you practice the tips above, you’ll soon be vibrant, elegant, confident and thought of as a woman of poise.
“The attributes of a great lady may still be found in the rule of the four S’s: Sincerity, Simplicity, Sympathy
Martine Polycarpe is a global public health professional, executive coach, and citizen of the world. Her passion for health and wellness can be seen in her commitment to the art of living and eating well. Find her musings on life at Petit World Citizen