What is charisma?

what is charisma?

What is charisma?

How do you feel about charisma?

Are you convinced it’s something you have to be born with? You either exude it naturally…or you’re sadly lacking.

Or maybe it’s something you’re quite happy to miss out on? Particularly if you’ve picked up the idea that charisma has a bit of a dark side. It’s often referred to as something people use to undermine others, to get what they want; to manipulate those around them. After all, serial killer Ted Bundy was often described as being particularly charismatic!

However you view it, I reckon charisma is a quality that is seriously misunderstood — and seriously underrated.

What is charisma?

While charisma may mean different things to different people, for me, it’s all about the energy we generate within other people.

It’s how we inspire them, how we influence them, and how we elevate them. Used well — and ethically — charisma allows us to leave people feeling more energized and more inspired to achieve. This is an important skill in any walk of life. However it is particularly beneficial for those whose work or social lives involves a leadership role.

Nature or nurture?

So, yes, having charisma can put you at a distinct advantage, both professionally and socially. But don’t despair if you think the charisma fairy didn’t stop by your crib as a baby; the idea that charisma is something you have to be born with is a total myth.

Sure, some people are naturally more charismatic than others; however in my experience, everyone can move further along that continuum. You can do this simply by learning and integrating a set of scientifically proven techniques and strategies.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to start acting in ways that are completely alien to you. Rather, it’s about taking certain skills and practicing them. Soon you’ll be able to exert more control over the way you behave in certain situations; you will become more consistent in the impact you have on other people and the outcomes you generate.

And this is something you naturally do anyway…

Think about it: if you consider the person you are today you’re likely quite different to the person you were 20, 10, or even 5 years ago. Without realising it, you’ve spent the past few years (or decades!) practicing certain skills, absorbing certain messages and behaviours, and gradually making them a more natural part of who you are.

If you want to cultivate charisma, all you need to do is take that process and make it more deliberate; the idea is to be more intentional about the messages and behaviours you absorb. Then you can fast track your progress and avoid having to wait another 20 years to benefit from the result!

Managing your internal world

The first thing to think about in your quest to cultivate more charisma is how you manage your internal world.

If we’re not in control of our emotions, we tend to behave in ways that are erratic or counterproductive. This both shows us in a bad light, and has a detrimental impact on the people we interact with. By contrast, when we are in command of our emotions we’re able to act more deliberately, with purpose, and can choose to have a positive influence over the people around us.

I like to think of it in terms of product branding; when we are the ones in control of our emotions (rather than the other way around!), we are able to control our actions. Therefore we present a consistent brand to other people. When we do that we show ourselves in the best possible light.  We actually maximise the opportunities within our interactions with others as well as leaving them feeling inspired and elevated.

Building rapport

Of course, developing charisma is not just about managing your internal world; it’s also about what you put out there and what that generates in other people.

As human beings, we are largely led by our desire to feel safe, our desire to be accepted, and our desire for validation. This is why it’s so important to show a genuine interest in people when you’re interacting with them.

One of the easiest ways to show interest is by asking people questions about themselves, particularly open-ended questions that invite them to share far more than a one-word answer or a superficial response.

For example, how often do we go into work on a Monday morning and ask our colleagues, ‘did you have a good weekend?’? And while some people might elaborate, most will just fire back a bland, ‘not bad, thanks, you?’ assuming that we’re not that bothered about the answer anyway.

This restricts conversations to a very superficial level but when you bring charisma into the equation, when you use open-ended questions and really listen to the answers, you find that gradually you’re able to start building rapport, you’re able to start going deeper with people and gain their trust — and that’s when they start to feel both safe and validated. That’s when they feel better about themselves and their potential.

And that’s also when you’re able to start influencing, leading, and inspiring people because when they feel that you have their best interests at heart they’re going to be more willing to open up the more vulnerable parts of themselves, safe in the knowledge that you’re going to continue showing an interest, that you’re going to accept and validate their vulnerability, and that you’re not going to use it against them.

Adjust the pace, win the argument?

Proving yourself to be trustworthy and reliable, and having those lengthier, deeper conversations are both important but it’s not just enough to go through these experiences mechanically — we also need to be mindful, be present, and be fully engaged. While this, again, involves managing our internal world, it’s also about pacing conversations by slowing them right down.

We need to be more receptive to what other people say. We also need to ensure they know that they have permission to expand, to reflect, and to augment their initial conversations.

How often, when somebody says something, do we hold them to account by what they first say? We hijack the conversation, or jump to conclusions about where it’s going? The answer is – all the time!

Slow the conversation down…

But when you intentionally slow the conversation down, when you ask more questions, when you allow people to expand on what they’re saying, you might just be pleasantly surprised by what they have to say. It might give you more insight into who they are as an individual.

It’s also an extremely useful strategy to use during debates or disagreements. When you dive into an argument, the other person can feel attacked; their ego takes a hit.  Even if they know you’re right, they are less inclined to buy into what you’re saying. This is because they want to keep their ego intact.

However, even if you fundamentally disagree with their stance, by allowing them to expand on their thoughts they still feel respected. You might even be able to repeat the words, metaphors, and concepts they’ve touched upon to argue your own case. This may better persuade them towards a different position. It’s a great way of bringing people with us, rather than trying to force our position upon them. It is hugely important when it comes to influencing and inspiring people.

Control, charisma, and the virtuous circle

You might have noticed a common theme in cultivating charisma: control.

It’s true that control is a big factor here. But charisma isn’t just about controlling your inner world and the direction of your conversations. It’s about how you use your voice, how you use your body, how you structure your sentences — all of these things reassure people that you’re in control of yourself, of your emotions, of the situation, of your place in the world and your sphere of influence.

And that is undeniably alluring.

When you display this level of control, of gravitas, of strength, people know that you’re a safe pair of hands. They know that they can entrust you with the things they tend to guard closely — their emotions, their money, their ideas — and that you’ll keep them secure.

Strength, presence and warmth

People gravitate towards other people who not only show strength, but also show presence and warmth and when you’re able to develop those three areas, people will want to be around you. Not only that, because their interactions with you make them feel great about themselves, they’ll be more likely to promote your ‘personal brand’ to others, or think of you when exciting opportunities come up.

So rather than the dark charisma that might have initially come to mind — charisma that would allow you to manipulate or undermine someone — what I’m talking about cultivating is a charisma that creates a kind of virtuous circle. It’s about creating win-win situations where we focus on thinking about what other people need from us, on putting people first, on making them feel safe, and in so doing, generating opportunities for ourselves too.  

And the best part of this form of ‘caring charisma’ and the virtuous circle it produces? Absolutely anyone can create it!

What to know more?

Want to find out more about cultivating charisma? I’ll be going into more detail in future posts so keep an eye out for that. And if you’d like more help in developing charisma-related skills that are more tailored to your own personal circumstances, check out our workshops and coaching sessions.


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