“The most common charisma myth is that you have to be naturally boisterous or outgoing to be charismatic. [An] interesting research finding is that you can be a very charismatic introvert … It is also a myth that you have to be attractive to be charismatic.”
“One of the main reasons we’re so affected by our negative thoughts is that we think our mind has an accurate grasp on reality, and that its conclusions are generally valid. This, however, is a fallacy. Our mind’s view of reality can be, and often is, completely distorted.”
The Main Point Of This Book
Charisma is not an inborn trait with a vague definition. It can be understood, learned, and taught. Anyone can become more charismatic.
The behavioral equation that produces charisma is about giving the impression that you possess both high power and high warmth, since charismatic behaviors project a combination of these two qualities, and giving the impression that you are present in the moment, and paying attention to the person you’re engaging with.
About The Author
Olivia Fox Cabane works with CEOs, entrepreneurs, and late-stage founders on improving their charisma, likability, and leadership. She has lectured at Stanford, Yale, Harvard, MIT, the Marine Corps War College and the United Nations, and she currently serves as Director of Innovative Leadership for Stanford’s StartX program.
Even though she is not a researcher, she has a solid understanding of the scientific evidence. This is the most well researched book on charisma with over 75 references to past studies and other books.
The Book Notes
Here, we’ll look at 4 important points from Charisma Myth:
1. What exactly is charisma?
2. The first step is don’t get in your own way (what to avoid)
3. How to create the right internal mental states to unconsciously project charisma
4. And the 3 parts of communicating with charisma (first impressions, verbal, and nonverbal)
What Charisma Is And Is Not
Charisma doesn’t require you to be outgoing or attractive, or for you to change your personality. It’s a skill, a discipline, like playing a sport or an instrument. It takes work, practice, and the right set of tools.
“The most common charisma myth is that you have to be naturally boisterous or outgoing to be charismatic. One of the most interesting research findings is that you can be a very charismatic introvert … It is also a myth that you have to be attractive to be charismatic. Countless charismatic figures were far from fitting classic standards of beauty.”
The 3 charismatic behaviors are presence, power, and warmth.
“Being present means simply having a moment-to-moment awareness of what’s happening. It means paying attention to what’s going on rather than being caught up in your own thoughts.”
“Though the combination of warmth and power is far easier for people to attain today, it still plays powerfully on our instincts. From lab experiments to neuroimaging, research has consistently shown that they are the two dimensions we evaluate first and foremost in assessing other people.”
All three are communicated mostly through body language, which isn’t under your conscious control.
“Because we can’t consciously control all of our body language, we can’t just broadcast charismatic body language at will. To get all the signals right, we’d need to simultaneously control thousands of elements, from minute vocal fluctuations to the precise degree and kind of tension.”
Your internal (emotional and mental) state determines your body language. Get the internal state right, and the right charismatic behaviors and body language will come automatically.
“Knowing your internal world starts with one key insight upon which all charisma is built: your mind can’t tell fact from fiction. This is the one dimension of your internal world that can help you get into the right charismatic mental state at will, and almost instantly.”
First, Focus On What Stops You From Being Charismatic
Physical and mental discomfort (anxiety, dissatisfaction, self-criticism, and self-doubt) affects your internal mental state and prevents you from projecting presence, power, and warmth.
Prevent discomfort by planning ahead to ensure comfort in clothing, location, and timing. If discomfort arises, you can either address it or explain it so that it’s not misperceived.
In all cases, being aware of the discomfort is the first step in being able to address it.
[Mating Grounds note: In our Helping Joe Part 3 podcast episode, Joe failed to begin a first date in a comfortable way. Because of this, he was never able to be charismatic or spark his date’s interest.]
“Uncertainty is the key mental discomfort. Remove it by a ‘Responsibility Transfer’:
2. Take deep breaths
3. Imagine the most powerful entity you believe in (god, universe, fate)
4. Imagine your concerns being placed on the shoulders of that entity
5. Visually lift the concerns off your shoulders and place them on the shoulders of that entity
6. Now you are no longer responsible for that event, you can relax. The uncertainty doesn’t change, but it’s out of your hands now.”
How to handle a difficult or anxiety-producing experience:
First, destigmatize the experience:
1. Understand that it’s a normal, common experience to have uncomfortable feelings.
2. Realize that feeling internal discomfort and negativity is a natural part of life that everybody experiences, and it’s nothing to be anxious about or ashamed of.
3. Think about other people who have gone through this before, and see yourself as part of a community of people experiencing the same feeling at the same moment.
Second, neutralize the negative thoughts:
1. If you think somebody is reacting negatively to you, realize that they may be reacting to internal discomfort.
2. Realize that your thoughts aren’t necessarily accurate at all.
3. Remember that your mind often distorts reality and filters your environment to highlight the negative.
“Even when it seems clear that someone is reacting negatively to us, what we’re seeing in their face might have nothing to do with us. What’s going on that we can’t see? Are they hungry, sick, or tired? Maybe they’re in some kind of mental or physical discomfort that they’re struggling to manage. The next time you think you see coldness or reservation in someone’s face while they’re talking to you, try to remember that it could simply be the visible signs of their internal discomfort. You might be catching the surface tremors of an internal tempest, and there’s a good chance that it has nothing to do with how they feel about you or what you’ve just said.”
Third, rewrite reality:
1. Consider other alternatives to your current perspective.
2. Write down your new realities by hand and describe them in vivid detail.
3. Change your beliefs to one of these new realities.
“This came to light through research performed at Stanford using functional MRI machines. The researchers concluded that deciding to change beliefs was a far more effective and healthier solution than attempting to repress or ignore emotions.”
How To Create Mental States That Project Charisma
Once you’ve addressed the obstacles, the next step is to consciously create mental states that help you project charisma.
1. Practice gratitude, goodwill, and compassion
These put you in a mental state that projects warmth. And compassion for yourself, surprisingly, helps you access all aspects of charisma.
”Kristin Neff, one of compassion’s foremost researchers, defines self-compassion as a three-step process: First, realizing that we’re experiencing difficulties. Second, responding with kindness and understanding toward ourselves when we are suffering or feel inadequate, rather than being harshly self-critical. Third, realizing that whatever we’re going through is commonly experienced by all human beings, and remembering that everyone goes through difficult times.”
2. Strong body language
You can also use those elements of body language you do control, such as posture and voice tone, to impact your mental state, which then feeds back into the rest of your body language, initiating a positive cycle.
Just as professional athletes and performers do, plan a gradual warm-up to your peak charismatic performance. Before important events, avoid experiences that would impair your warmth.
4. Use Visualization,
Visualizing, used commonly by professional athletes, is a remarkably versatile and powerful tool for accessing the right mental state.
Communicating With Charisma, Part 1 – The First Impression
Within minutes or even seconds, people form an impression of your status, your personality, and much else about you, and this evaluation filters their future perceptions of you. The first impression you make starts with your appearance, and typically continues with your handshake and the start of your conversation. People feel most comfortable with those who are similar to them in some way, including appearance and behavior.
1. If you know you are going to be talking to a specific kind of person, tailor your clothing and appearance to be similar to them.
“When people are similar in terms of attire, appearance, demeanor, and speech, they automatically assume they share similar social backgrounds, education, and even values.”
2. Have a good and appropriate greeting for the situation.
3. Mirror the body language and speech mannerisms of the person you are talking to.
4. Keep the focus of the conversation on the other person.
5. Try to find similarities between you and the person you’re talking to.
6. Exit the conversation before you have worn out your welcome.
[Mating Grounds note: If you go over-the-top in a comedic sense, this is similar to George Costanza going out on a high note.]
Communicating With Charisma, Part 2 – Speaking & Listening
In your conversation, focus on providing entertainment, information, and good feelings. The pitch, tone, and tempo of your speech are as important as what you say in determining what you project. There are specific verbal and vocal techniques for projecting each of the three elements of charisma.
1. Listen well. Don’t let your mind wander when you’re talking to them.
2. Don’t interrupt.
“Good listeners know never, ever to interrupt—not even if the impulse to do so comes from excitement about something the other person just said. No matter how congratulatory and warm your input, it will always result in their feeling at least a twinge of resentment or frustration at not having been allowed to complete their sentence.”
3. Pause for 2 full seconds before you speak.
1. Make people feel good.
2. Don’t make people feel bad or wrong.
3. Make other people feel valued and important.
1. Speak concisely.
2. Reduce how quickly and how often you nod.
3. Use pictures, metaphors, and sensory-rich language.
4. Speak with a slow, measured tempo; and insert pauses between your sentences; and drop your intonation at the end.
“Studies have consistently shown that audience ratings of a lecture are more strongly influenced by delivery style than by content.”
Communicating With Charisma, Part 3 – Body Language
Warmth can be projected by managing physical and personal space to make the other person feel comfortable:
1. Mirror the other person’s body language.
“Several studies across the world have found that mirroring someone’s body language can get them to pick up your dropped items, buy your products, or give you a better deal. Mirroring even makes you more attractive to others.”
2. Look into the other person’s eyes.
“In one study, complete strangers were asked to count the number of times the person across from them blinked. This was just a ploy to get people to look deeply into each other’s eyes without feeling the awkwardness that usually arises. Within just a few minutes, people reported increased affection, and some even passionate feelings, for each other.”
3. Don’t invade the other person’s space.
Power can be projected by:
1. Take up space by using “big gorilla” body language
“As Stanford’s Gruenfeld found, People who assume expansive poses (taking up more space) experience a measurable physiological shift. In one experiment, assertiveness- and energy-promoting hormones rose by 19 percent, while anxiety hormones fell by 25 percent.”
2. Avoid unnecessary movement.
3. Cut out verbal and nonverbal reassurances.
To project presence :
1. Be mentally present.
2. Don’t fidget.
“If you want someone to feel comfortable, avoid seating them with their back to an open space, particularly if others are moving behind them. This kind of seating position causes the breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure to increase rapidly, especially if the person’s back is toward an open door or a window at ground level. And by association, their discomfort would likely affect their perception of you.”
[Mating Grounds note: Keep this in mind when you are on a date and deciding where to sit.]
For 20+ simple exercises on practicing the skills of charisma, go to Olivia’s website. My favorites are below:
Stretching Your Comfort Zone
Strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. When you’re standing or sitting near someone, see if there’s something they’re looking at that could give you something with which to start the conversation.
Let’s say you’re in a coffee shop waiting in line. You could make any small comment about the pastries, and follow with an open- ended question (one that cannot be answered with a yes or no). Say something like: “I’m trying to decide which is most sinful: the muffin, the brownie, or the coffee cake. How would you rank them?”
Take the three steps below to practice compassion for someone:
1. Imagine their past. What was it like growing up in their family and experiencing their childhood?
2. Imagine their present. Put yourself in their place. See through their eyes. Imagine what they might be feeling right now.
3. Imagine delivering their eulogy.
Being the Big Gorilla
Use this exercise when you want to both feel and broadcast confidence—for instance before a key meeting, or with someone who’s a bit intimidating.
1. Make sure you can breathe. Loosen any clothing if need be.
2. Stand up and shake up your body.
3. Take a wide stance and plant your feet firmly on the ground.
4. Stretch your arms to the ceiling.
5. Stretch your arms to the walls on either side of you.
6. INFLATE. Try to take up as much space as possible.
7. Roll your shoulders up and then back.
8. Imagine yourself as a four-star general reviewing his troops.Puff up your chest, broaden your shoulders, and put your arms behind your back.
The Downsides of Charisma
Charisma changes the way people relate to you, and challenges come along with the benefits. You become more of a magnet for praise, but also for envy, and you may be held to higher standards than others.Charisma can also be powerful in the wrong ways. People may want to follow you even when you’re wrong, rely on you too much, or take unjustified risks because of their faith in your ability to fix anything. Charisma has some potential downsides, here’s how you can deal with them:
1. To reduce envy and resentment, reflect or transfer praise and glory. Highlight others who deserve praise and give people ownership of your success
2. Show your vulnerabilities, this will make you more likable and relatable
3. If you think someone is sharing something they will regret sharing, interject with a “me, too” story.
4. If it’s too late and they have already shared something they may regret, aim to make them feel admired for having shared and revealed so much.
“During his tenure in the White House, Bill Clinton was known to go around asking everyone, from his chef to his janitor, for their opinion on foreign policy. He’d listen intently, and in subsequent conversations would refer back to the opinion they’d offered. When people feel that they’ve had a hand in ‘making’ you, they feel a certain ownership of and identification with you, and therefore a certain responsibility for your success.”
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