For charisma, your body language matters far more than your words do.
–Olivia Fox Cabane
The Charisma Myth explains the science behind charisma and how we can become more charismatic leaders by increasing our presence, warmth, and power. Ms. Cabane provides practical suggestions and exercises that can be implemented immediately to help you enhance not only your career but also your personal relationships.
This book caught my attention because I have been in the path of very charismatic people over the years, and I just assumed that it was a natural talent. That people got their charm and energy by the luck of the draw. It truly never occurred to me that charisma might be a learned skill. And so, if charisma is just a personality trait, then I clearly can’t do anything to improve myself. But I really don’t like feeling like there’s nothing that I can do to improve myself. So when this book claimed that charismatic behaviors can be learned and perfected by anyone, I was interested.
These are the top three lessons that I am taking away from reading The Charisma Myth:
Charisma requires presence.
Presence means maintaining an active and engaged awareness of what is happening in any situation. To cultivate charisma in ourselves, we must be present when interacting with other people. This means not letting your mind wander, answering e-mail when on the phone, or thinking about what to say next when someone is talking. So many of us need to improve in this area and abandon our delusions about effective multi-tasking. Presence is very difficult to achieve and maintain, especially with the distractions bombarding us every day. I once had a boss who expected immediate responses to his text messages. He would literally send someone off to find you if you didn’t answer quickly enough! Hard to be present with competing demands like that on our attention.
The Charisma Myth offers this simple suggestion when you notice your mind starting to wander. Focus on your breathing and wiggle your toes to bring yourself back into the moment and re-engage with the person you’re interacting with. Sounds easy. I tried it, and it actually was. Of course, the trick is to catch yourself before your mind leaves a conversation that your body is still in the middle of.
People with poise exhibit stillness that avoids unnecessary gestures, fidgeting, and verbal reassurances.
A lot of us have unconscious tics that we use when interacting with other people. I notice them very easily in others and am oblivious to them in myself (no surprise since their unconscious). The most common that I notice are people nodding or repeating “uh-huh” or “ok” over and over again. We typically develop these automatic behaviors for one of two reasons. To express empathy—I’m paying attention! Or to express insecurity—I’m trying to make you happy! By choosing instead to be deliberate with our actions and reassurances, we can increase our level of presence and charisma.
Physical discomfort reduces our ability to be charismatic.
If we are physically uncomfortable, it will distract us, reduce our presence, and may even give others the false impression that our distress is related to them. Imagine that you are at lunch with an important client and he is fidgeting around in his chair, guzzling water, and looking around. You might, quite understandably, assume that he is disappointed with how the meeting is going or your company’s performance. Or that he is looking to grab the check and split. But then imagine if he told you, “Will you excuse me for one moment, it’s quite hot and I’d like to ask the host to open the window?” Well, then you wouldn’t be worried at all. The same can be true if we are meeting with people and are wearing uncomfortable clothes, in a cold room, or have the sun in our eyes.
The lesson here is simply to think about your physical comfort in advance. If there is an unavoidable issue, make it clear to others that your discomfort is not a reflection of what they are saying.
Next Steps Toward a Charismatic Life
The first way that I’m implementing what I have learned is to improve my verbal and non-verbal reassurance techniques. I want people to feel that I’m listening, paying close attention, and finding what they are telling me to be valuable. So I nod like a bobble-head and encourage every sentence that they say. And worse, sometimes when I notice that my mind is wandering, I do it even more in the hopes that people won’t notice my lack of presence. It started to annoy even me! Now I focus on my body language and demonstrate my connection with the other person through real presence and warmth. I keep my head still and my mouth shut while they are talking. When I do offer encouragement, it’s deliberate, not a nervous tic.
If you are looking to improve your presence, warmth, and power in order to better connect with people and become a more charismatic leader, I recommend this book.
Read some of my other book reviews here.