“I attract a crowd, not because I’m an extrovert or I’m over the top or I’m oozing with charisma. It’s because I care.”
Gary Vaynerchuk (Co-founder and CEO; Vayner Media)
“I’ve trained myself to illuminate the things in my personality that are likable.”
Will Smith (Actor; The Pursuit of Happyness)
“Charm is a way of getting the answer ‘Yes’ without asking a clear question.”
Albert Camus (Nobel Prize Winning Author)
No one is born with charisma. It’s a skill you have to develop.
I picked up the phone and called this girl who sat in front of me in Math class. It was the beginning of my freshman year of high school and everyone else was starting to get into one of those hold-your-hand-in-the-hallway relationships. I didn’t have anyone’s hand to hold. But I had a plan. I’d been talking to Math girl for a while and she seemed to like me. I think. I couldn’t really tell. We made eye contact once or twice and she was always laughing with me (or at me). So I called her.
I didn’t ask for her number though. I looked her up in the phone book and called her house, which in today’s world is like trying to contact someone through their parent’s Facebook page. Her Dad answered the phone. I paused awkwardly and mumbled “Can I please talk to so-and-so.” So-and-so got on the phone and I asked her if she wanted to “go out.” I don’t remember making any small talk or even telling her why I liked her. I just said “Do you want to go out?” She said yes. I was so excited. Four days later she broke up with me in a paper note she gave me in Math class. I’m still not sure what happened.
As Cool As Sunburn
In college I applied to a job at a Sunglass Hut and was turned down cold. I went to the interview and got in line with four other people that were interviewing for the same position. One-by-one we each went into the manager’s small, closet-like office to explain why we wanted the job. The office was small but the door and walls were made of glass so you could see and hear everything. When I went in, the manager told me to please sit down and keep the door open. I was uncomfortable.
I could feel the other candidates looking at me through the glass and listening to my answers. The manager was a weird guy. He was quiet and mousey and awkward. I couldn’t relate to him at all. I tried to show him that I’d be great for the job by being more loud and confident but he just acted more and more annoyed. He dismissed me and I went out into the hall to get my coat. I lingered just long enough to watch the next candidate, who was also weird, go in and start his interview. Within 10 seconds the manager and candidate were laughing together. Three weeks later, I walked by the store on my way to another job interview at the mall and saw the weird guy selling someone a pair of sunglasses.
Deconstructing The It-Factor
Charisma, or interpersonal skills as it’s robotically referred to in the corporate world, is the most important skill in business. This is true no matter the industry. In the book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success, Dan Schawbel polled hundreds of employers asking “What are the most important traits you look for when hiring?” 98% responded, “communication skills.” A large-scale survey performed by the Center for Creative Leadership found that poor “interpersonal skills” are the number one reason promising careers go off course. Another survey by the Workforce Solutions Group found that 60% of all applicants to high-level jobs lack adequate communication and interpersonal skills. Like it or not, how much people like you matters. But being likeable isn’t about fitting in, it’s about understanding others. It’s also about helping other people understand you, especially at first contact.
Charisma is an impression best made now. When it comes to initial attraction, studies show that emotionally expressive people are more charismatic. And, surprisingly, this relationship between expressiveness and charisma is independent of physical attractiveness. Other studies show that first impressions can last for years. This is because meeting someone for the first time activates both your amygdala, which is one of the few areas of the brain that receives information from all your senses at once, and your posterior cingular cortex, which controls your autobiographical memory, emotional memory, and attention. First impressions stick and charisma is a big part of making a good first impression. The good news is you can increase your charisma at any time by following a few simple guidelines.
7 Things Charismatic People Have In Common
Whether you want a date or a promotion, your likability will be a deciding factor in getting what you want. Most people think that they’re either born with charisma or they’re not. This is a misconception. Charisma is a science and a skill that can be increased by practicing expressiveness, sensitivity, calibration, presence, clarity, paradox, and physical arousal. Sharpen these 7 skills and you’ll never make anyone cringe again:
1. Express yourself openly.
A good gauge of how expressive you are is how easily (and how often) you strike up conversations with strangers for no reason at all. Striking up conversations with strangers is also the best way to increase your expressiveness. Your goal should be to convey your feelings easily to other people without making them uncomfortable. The best way to do this is to express yourself in a way that makes other people feel happy, positive and excited. The key is to express yourself using your body, not your words.
Studies by Dr. Alex Pentland at the MIT Human Dynamic Labs show that people who incorporate lots of the unconscious gestures and expressions are more charismatic. Dr. Pentland developed a gadget called the sociometer that detects and measures charismatic actions by tracking speech patterns and bodily movement. People who talk fast, use bold mannerisms, and have high energy levels were found to be more charismatic and more persuasive. Other studies show that people who express themselves openly while dancing (displaying the right amount of arm, neck, and knee movement) and even those who act openly prideful are more attractive to the opposite sex than those who dance less expressively and those who are modest and reserved.
2. Be sensitive to the situation.
A charismatic person is able to read other people, or feel out a room, much more quickly and accurately than the average person. This means that they are more sensitive to situations. There are two ways to increase your sensitivity to situations and groups of people. The first is as simple as it is surprising—reading fiction. Studies at the New School of Social Research in New York found that reading literary fiction (think War & Peace, not The Notebook) increases sensitivity by improving your ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions better and faster. Reading literary fiction also increases your ability to navigate social networks easier.
The second way to increase your sensitivity levels is through Neurolinguistic Programming. NLP is a broad field you could spend your entire life studying. But for this point, there are only a couple of things you should focus on. Number one, try to figure out as quickly as possible if the people you interact with are moving-toward oriented or moving-away from oriented. In other words, are they driven by seeking pleasure or by avoiding pain? You can figure this out quickly by asking them about their future plans or goals and listening carefully to the words they use to describe what they want.
Number two, pay attention to the direction of other people’s eyes when you ask them questions. This will help you determine if they are audio, visual, or kinetic learners. It will also give you insight into whether they are drawing upon their memories for an answer or constructing an answer from scratch (this is also a good technique for determining if people are lying to you). Once you know how someone learns, you can relate to them better and once you know where they’re getting their information (from memory or construction) you can influence their behavior in a positive way.
3. Calibrate yourself to the situation.
I used to refer to this point as self-control or simply control, but during my recent interview on The Art of Charm, Jordan Harbinger told me that he and his listeners refer to this as calibration. I think calibration is a better word too. Here, calibration describes the ability to adjust your persona to match the mood and social makeup of any group. Calibration is crucial to being charismatic. Once you’ve correctly sensed the mood of a situation, you have to adjust yourself to it. Too many people walk into a room, sense something is wrong or different, and then go on acting as if everything is normal. This is a mistake and can damage not only your personal life, but your career too.
Mirroring is the key to calibration. If you walk into a room and sense that things are just a bit off, the first thing you should do is look at other people’s body language. Who’s being aggressive? Who’s being defensive? Most importantly, who is the more influential and well-liked person? Due to the chameleon effect, you’re first instinct will be to match the posture, facial expressions, mannerisms, and even speech patterns to the first person you see or to the group as a whole. This can be a mistake. Studies out of UCSD show that mimicking the wrong person, such as someone is rude, condescending, or not generally liked—even temporarily—can damage your reputation forever. Calibration is not about copying everyone all the time, it’s about mirroring the right people at the right time. Of course, the goal is not to be fake or manipulative. The goal is to try to understand the situation. You have to understand the situation before you can make it better.
4. Have presence.
Nothing is more powerful than being intensely in the moment with someone, without threat, while also listening to them intently. The key is to be present without being creepy. It sounds easy but the difference can be very subtle. Studies in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology show that people who make higher levels of eye contact with others are perceived as being more warm, honest, sincere, competent, confident, and stable. Other studies show that too much eye contact makes other people more resistant to persuasion. Similarly, smiling at other people sincerely and fully (by engaging your eye muscles) has been shown to increase likability and influence. But fake smiling (without engaging your eye muscles) makes other people resent you.
The best way to get present with other people is to focus on your senses, not your thoughts or worries, and to read their lips when they talk to you. Repeat what the other person is saying back to yourself—in your head—at the exact same time that they say it. This will keep your mind from wondering and will force your brain to stay engaged on exactly on what’s being said.
5. Communicate your ideas clearly.
When it comes to first impressions, expressing yourself in a crisp and interesting way is more important than what you’re expressing. Delivery trumps content. At least in the short term. A recent University of Massachusetts study of 133 managers found that if an auditor is likable and gives a well-organized argument, managers tend to comply with his suggestions, even if they disagree and the auditor lacks supporting evidence. Too many people lack charisma, not because they’re not likable, but because they can’t communicate effectively.
Instead of presenting information in a clear and simple manner, they try to be too funny or too clever or too complex. Never sacrifice clarity to cleverness. And don’t inflate the complexity of a topic just to seem more important. A well crafted argument or clearly expressed idea will make people like and respect you more than a clever joke or a string of long words. Also, bring printed materials with you any time you meet someone for the first time in a professional setting. This automatically makes you look like a responsible, organized person. It seems pointless but that’s not the point. The point is to exude clarity, whether or not you need the documents you’re carrying.
6. Have a mysterious or paradoxical persona.
The most mysterious part of being charismatic is mystery itself. People are intrigued by mystery. We are drawn to people and things that don’t make sense because we want to make sense of them. This is the advantage of being a deep, layered, or multi-faceted individual. Maintaining a certain level of mystery is a great way to increase your attractiveness. There is, however, such a thing as too much mystery. If you are too weird or confusing, people will brush you aside. They’ll either ignore you or hate you by default. But if you’re just a little different—if your personality rests on a subtle paradox—people will want to be around you.
U.S. Election Poll studies and out of Harvard and Princeton University show that people who are paradoxically strong and warm at the same time are much more charismatic than those who are only strong or only warm. Strength requires solidarity, confidence, and self-belief. Warmth requires openness, empathy, and vulnerability. It’s not an easy combination to pull off simultaneously. But there are some things you can do to appear strong and warm at the same time. Strength is primarily conveyed with posture and gestures. Good, erect posture is strong. Holding one’s hands palms up and facing away is weak, as are self-comforting gestures, like touching your face, playing with your hands, or rubbing arms, chest, or the back of your neck. Warmth is conveyed most easily by a genuine smile—one that does not linger or undermine your strength—and by listening with your head slightly tilted to the right and without interrupting.
7. Arouse people to action.
Some people walk into a room and light it up, others walk into a room and kill it. The difference between these two types of people is arousal. Charismatic people are influential—they can arouse others to action. They excite people, make them laugh, inspire them, even frustrate or confuse them. Without influence—without arousal—a charming person is just an okay guy (or okay girl). To arouse someone, you have to tap into their limbic system. This is the part of the brain that controls emotion. But, when it comes to arousal, not all emotions are created equal. If you want to be charismatic, there are two emotions you should focus on: awe and excitement.
Recently, University of Pennsylvania researchers performed a detailed study of the New York Times list of most-e-mailed articles. The researchers checked the list every 15 minutes for more than six months, analyzing the content of thousands of articles and controlling for factors like placement on the NYT Webpage and publication timing. The study found that more than anything else, people were more likely to share articles that were inspiring—those that created a sense of awe. This is because awe is actionable. The best and easiest way to fill people with a sense of awe is to help them create an inspiring vision for their future or to share an inspiring story with them.
Additional research shows that excitement arouses people, including lazy people, into action more than other emotions. In one study, participants were divided into 4 different groups. Each group watched short videos that were either 1) exciting and upbeat—car chase scenes; 2) emotionally neutral—segments from a historical documentary; 3) fearful—scenes from a horror movie; or 4) sad—scenes from a depressing drama. After watching the videos, each group played a computer game that allowed them to trade real-life items with each other. The study found that people who watched the exciting videos took significantly more action than those who watched the other videos. The excited people also took more risks. Excitement is contagious. It’s also memorable. If you can get other people excited about something, especially their own lives, they’ll stay drawn to you forever.
Charisma is a skill, not a secret. And like any other skill, charisma can be mastered—if you practice it enough. Focus on being more expressive, sensitive, controlled, present, clear, mysterious, and inspiring. If you do these things, people will understand you better, which will make them more comfortable around you. Overall, you’ll be more magnetic, influential, and confident, which will help you make a real difference in both your professional life and your personal life.
Which of the above skills have you practiced in the past? Which one do you need to practice more?
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