Have you ever walked into a room and been struck by somebody’s presence? All of us want to be that person. We want to have a strong impact on people, whether it’s at work or outside it.

Presence is all about confidence, self-assurance, and self-belief—qualities you can learn and build over time.

But how exactly do you create a persona that leaves a powerful impression on people? 

The film The Intern, a 2015 comedy about a retired 70-year-old widower, Ben Whittaker, who starts life over as a senior intern at a New York fashion startup, offers some useful lessons.

Ben, played by Robert de Niro, is aware that he is a misfit in the office because he is decades older than everyone else but working as an intern under them. This initially makes his coworkers, including the company’s co-founder Jules Ostin, played by Anne Hathaway, feel awkward around him.

In the modern, high-octane environment of the office where the boss cycles around the office, everything is digitized, and the dress code is ‘casual’, Ben dresses up in elegant suits, carries a handkerchief, and an attache. Many of his younger colleagues think his fashion sense is ‘retro’, especially so because he works in the fashion industry. But he isn’t perturbed and instead shows them how old school is still cool.

Despite the odds, Whittaker manages to earn their trust and build a strong presence in the office.

How does he do it? 

Ben has the three values of Trust, Emotional Intelligence, and Authenticity, or Harappa’s TEA skills. These skills help him build strong connections with his new colleagues and strengthen his voice for others. You can find out more about building presence in Harappa’s Building Presence course.

Ben also relies on the Trust Equation, which suggests that one should be high on credibility, reliability, and openness, and low on self-orientation to be seen as trustworthy.

He has four decades of experience heading a phonebook company, which makes him credible. He is efficient with his work as an intern and stands out for his diligence. 

Ben also proves himself to be reliable by bringing the same amount of care and attention to any task, whether big or small. He offers to drive Jules to meetings, crunches numbers to help her make a decision, and even cleans out a desk which had turned into a dumping ground for files. Jules appreciates this and it creates an image of reliability for Ben in her mind.

Ben is open and easy-going, and he gradually becomes an invaluable support to Jules as she struggles to balance work and home. This makes Jules feel comfortable enough to invite him to her house and introduce him to her husband and daughter. Ben also offers to let a coworker he doesn’t know very well stay at his house while he searches for a place. This openness endears him to his colleagues.

In addition to the first three aspects of trust–credibility, reliability, and openness–Ben also possesses the fourth aspect, which is low self-orientation. This means that he is not overtly focused on himself and can put others’ needs before his own.

At one point in the story, it is revealed that the investors are urging Jules to hire an experienced CEO to lead the company’s growth. Though unwilling at first, she later agrees to hire someone and step down as the CEO.

However, Been feels that Jules is more than capable of running the company herself and that the company will also benefit from her continued leadership. So when he learns about her intention to step down as the CEO, he reminds her of her passion for her venture, which he believes is the reason for its success.

Ben’s reaction is in line with the final factor of trust—low self-orientation. His main aim is to protect Jules’ interests and those of the company and he is not concerned about his personal or professional growth.

By using the Trust Equation and the TEA Skills of Trust, Emotional Intelligence, and Authenticity, Ben is able to befriend his boss and create a lasting bond with her. The film shows that Trust, Emotional Intelligence, and Authenticity are habits that cut across age and sex.

Being empathetic to people and being mindful of their concerns not only establishes one’s presence but also strengthens personal and professional relationships.

A perfect watch for the weekend, the film not only captures the camaraderie between Ben and Jules but also takes a lighthearted look at navigating your way at work. Do watch the movie for the stellar performances and the refreshing chemistry between De Niro and Hathaway.


Learn about the techniques and best practices of being an excellent communicator in a professional context with Harappa's Speaking Effectively course. Enroll now for the Online Learning Courses and pave your path to workplace success.

Aliza is an associate in the Learning Impact team at Harappa Education. She is an animal enthusiast and likes to sketch, bake, and watch horror movies during her free time. 

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