Six months ago, Australia held a national election, and more than once I heard it referred to as a contest between two non-charismatic leaders. One headline called the election a ‘low charisma contest’. Another journalist wrote that both leaders specialised in non-charisma. It turns out that our Prime Minister Scott Morrison must have at least a little charisma because he beat the Labor Party’s Bill Shorten convincingly.
Do you believe that some people exude charisma or magnetism? Charisma is the quality of being able to attract, charm and influence those around you. It is a difficult characteristic to define. It’s easier to say who does have charisma rather than define charisma. Ask people who has charisma and they will come up with names like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and on the home-front, Bob Hawke has charisma. In terms of celebrities you have Oprah Winfrey, Marilyn Monroe and the king of charisma, Elvis Presley. Royalists would say Harry has more of it than Will, but still I’m failing to define charisma.
People fall in love with charismatic people possibly because they represent the ideal version of ourselves. We all want to be attractive, confident, happy and engaging and fun. Have you ever had a friend you’d classify as charismatic? I have and I’ll let you in on a secret. Charismatic people have flaws. They aren’t actually perfect. They can be selfish, inconsiderate, ignorant and even annoying. Perhaps they are just better at hiding their flaws and accentuating their strengths than the rest of us. And yet, we all still want to be charismatic. We want to be instantly attractive, appealing and loveable. Who doesn’t want to be the life and soul of every party?
Can you learn to be charismatic? It appears you can, because I recently read an article in the Fairfax Press about a man who teaches charisma. Chris Hughes used to be an opera singer because he moved into selling art and antiques. He combined what he has learnt about performance with what he knows about sales and came up with the Right Voice for You classes. He travels around the world teaching people how to be charismatic.
Mr Hughes told Fairfax that charisma is “the willingness to be the centre of attention, but never requiring it. It is having no point of view about whether you are seen or not. It is also when the opinions and judgements of others are not relevant to you”.
He says trying too hard to be charismatic will come off as false because “if you are trying too hard it’s more alienating to others than it is intriguing”. Try-hards always appear that they have something to prove. Being self-conscious also undermines charisma.
Mr Hughes says the biggest hurdle to being charismatic is unmet needs.
“How much fun are needy people?” Mr Hughes asks. “Do you want to call them and hang out with them all the time? No, because we are aware, even non-cognitively, of the needs of others and that people want us to validate their insecurities with our choices and approval of them. On the other hand, those that don’t require validation are attractive because they don’t have that judgement in their world to create the resistance.”
Mr Hughes says many people are plagued by perceived needs and they should let go of these and just get on with living. He calls on people to look beyond themselves.
“I teach people to have the courage to be them and step outside their comfort zones. I encourage them to embrace the opportunities we have to be us and share it with the world, and let go of our point of view of what we think that will or should look like,” he says.
“So many people think they will be happy once they attain a level of perfection that deserves attention. I teach that the attention comes from a lack of judgment of self and a willingness to put your voice out in the world, even if no one approves of it or responds.”
Psychologist, Dr Ronald Riggio, has spent 30 years studying charisma and he says this is what you need to be charismatic.
1. Emotional expressiveness.
Dr Ronald Riggio believes that charismatic individuals express their feelings spontaneously and genuinely. This allows them to affect the moods and emotions of others. Charismatic people seem to ‘light up the room’ when they arrive. They typically are positive, but charismatic leaders can stir us up with their passion.
2. Emotional sensitivity
Charismatic people can read others’ emotions, and allows them to impact emotionally by responding with their feelings. The Australian author Tim Winton is charismatic. When you speak to him, you feel like the rest of the world disappears and there is a bright spotlight on you. He knows how to make people feel noticed and important.
3. Emotional control
Dr Ronald Riggio says charismatic individuals have the ability to control and regulate their emotions. They don’t suffer fits of anger, jealousy or moodiness. They are good emotional actors, who can turn on the charm when they need to.
4. Social expressiveness
Dr Ronald Riggio thinks charismatic people have the gift of the gab and know how to talk. They can easily engage others in social interaction. Charismatic people are skilled and entertaining conversationalists. They impact on us with their emotional expressiveness, but there is power in their words. Nearly all charismatic leaders are good public speakers.
5. Social sensitivity
Charismatic people can read the room or even a crowd and interpreting social situations. They listen to others, and are ‘in tune’ with people. Charismatic people are tactful and sensitive to their surroundings.
6. Social control
Charismatic people carry themselves with poise and grace. It allows them to fit in with all sorts of people and make emotional and social connections that distinguish charismatic individuals from those of us who can’t move effortlessly between different social groups.
Some people have more natural charisma than others, and charismatic individuals are often extroverts however they are not self-focussed. I like that American movie, ‘Crazy Stupid Love’. The Ryan Gosling character teaches the Steve Carell character how to appear to be charismatic to women. His advice is to make the person you are talking to feel like they are genuinely interesting and engaging – like you sincerely want to learn who they are and what they want.
I have even better advice if you want to enhance your charisma, BE genuinely interested in every person you meet. Treat them with respect and care, and endeavour to find out what makes them special and unique. You’ll not only become more charismatic but also a better human being.
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