Charisma is the unique property of someone who possesses a personal charm and is irresistibly attractive to others. Such an individual has highly developed communication and persuasion skills that he or she uses to influence and excite other people. Charisma increases a person's attractiveness. But careful - it is not necessarily true vice versa. You can meet somebody who is obviously attractive at first sight but who does not turn out to have the charisma you would expect.
According to British psychologist Richarda J. Wisemann, a charismatic person tends to be highly attuned to the emotions of others and has an extraordinary ability to awaken emotions in them. At the same time, he is able to keep his own emotions in check and is resistant to the influence of other people, their negative attitudes and ideas.
People often think that there is a direct correlation between charisma and the highest attained level of education. Let's take two global leaders as an example. On the one hand, there is U.S. President Barack Obama who studied at several prestigious universities including Harvard. On the other hand, look at someone like former Brazilian President Lula da Silva who left elementary school after only four years to become a breadwinner at the age of 12. Both politicians are intensely charismatic despite their vastly different academic backgrounds. There is no correlation here. The same can be said of the effect of the environment one grows up in. It makes no difference whether you come from a royal family or a socially excluded neighbourhood.
What are the advantages of charisma? Picture a charismatic individual in your mind. This person is most probably at ease with public appearances and speaking in front of people, is able to influence, motivate and inspire others and efficiently communicates his own visions. Most of will instinctively think of famous and successful women and men who are well-known for their artistic, athletic, political and business achievements.
Studies have shown that charismatic people work on better projects and get paid more for their work. This only serves to make them more self-confident and wins them even greater respect among their peers.
A successful person's charisma multiplies his or attractiveness, which may sometimes turn into a downright fascination. Just look at some artists or the most successful entrepreneurs. When they enter a room, everybody is immediately aware that they are there and they are able to captivate all those who are present in a blink of an eye.
I would even argue that charismatic people lead happier lives but not simply thanks to the advantages I have already mentioned. They are happier primarily because of their positive outlook and their ability to enjoy even the smallest details. On the road to success, however, charisma cannot compensate for a lack of intelligence or hard work, which are, in my mind, the cornerstones that charisma can build on, adding a certain aura of personality that makes things a bit easier and smoother.
Whenever I talk to people about charisma I tend to hear to same questions over and over again. Everybody wants to know if charisma is something you are born with or if you can learn to be charismatic. Another typical question is whether there is some connection to the way the charismatic person looks. This is true, to a certain degree. A pleasant and attractive face can do a lot and make people pay attention to you but what about an actor like Jean-Paul Belmondo. Nobody would question his charisma although his "beauty" may be subject to debate.
Don't get me wrong, though - a charismatic person is not always a good person. There are way too many charismatic crooks who cause terrible harm to their victims. Let's be very clear that there is positive and negative charisma. If we want to take it to the extreme, we could say that both Stalin and Hitler possessed great charisma but used it for negative ends.
Although each one of us will occasionally get into a situation where we will tend to agree with a charismatic person, it does not mean that we should easily fall under the spell of this person's words and looks. What about the effect of clothing? I would say that it acts in a way similar to attractive looks. Interesting and appropriate attire can help, but it not required.
At the top of the chart of the most frequent questions is the trickiest issue. Can an introvert be charismatic? Take a look at several global leaders: Ghandi, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. All three were exceptionally charismatic while being at the same time very introvert. I think there is really just one point of difference between an introvert and an extrovert. When I, an extrovert, get off the stage after giving a speech I feel full of energy. An extrovert, on the other hand, will feel exhausted. The reason is that an introvert runs on his own internal battery while I get recharged by the simple fact that I stand in front of an audience. This does not mean that one personality trait is good and the other bad per se. It is simply about how each manages his internal energy. So yes, an introvert can be charismatic. He just needs to practice more before getting on the stage so that he has more scope for using his energy efficiently.
Let's dive deeper into our topic to get a true understanding of what it takes to be charismatic. Charisma is most often expressed and perceived through a person body language. This is partly due to the historical evolution of the way humans communicate where speech and language come into play at a relatively late stage of humanity's experience. Before that, our ancestors spent a much longer period of time communicating through facial expressions, gestures and postures. Speech is responsible for a mere 7% of efficient human communication and the remaining 93% depends on body language. It is important to keep in mind in this context that our mental and emotional state directly influences our body language. But it also works the other way. Sit up straight and you will immediately feel stronger. These are communicating vessels that often reveal more about ourselves than we would like.
What are the components of charisma? Imagine a triangle that has power, presence and warmth at its corners. In the centre of this figure, we have authenticity that can be achieved only by people who make use of their strengths, talents and firmly anchored personal values.
Only truly authentic people can aspire to be charismatic. Authenticity can be feigned but not forever. It is a trick sometimes used by actors. Some roles and situations are very difficult to just imagine for longer periods of time. What actors do is that they fully immerse themselves in their roles, experiencing something akin to the placebo effect known to medicine. You no longer pretend to be what you are not, you really live the experience. In English this is known as method acting.
Look at the vertices of our charisma triangle. At the first tip, we have presence. I realised the power of a person's presence when I had the opportunity to meet global leaders such as Prince Charles. When you are standing next to somebody with a great personal presence you feel that, at that moment, the person is there just for, that you have their fully attention.
How can you tell that someone is truly present in the moment? Among the telltale signs is the fact that the person keeps natural eye contact with you, displays an open body language, listens to you and asks relevant questions. It apparently takes only 17 milliseconds for you to notice that you partner is drifting away, losing the thread. Such a tiny moment can wreak a lot of damage in sensitive negotiations.
Fortunately, there are pretty simple tricks that can help you regain the present moment. Focus on your breathing or on your toes. If you try this strategy you will feel a sudden, strange signal shooting up through your body, forcing you to pay attention. Another trick is to focus on the sounds in the room or the colour of the eyes of your partner. Guess what - human eyes do not come only in brown or blue. They come in an incredible variety of shades and each person has a completely unique pair of eyes.
The second magic tip of the triangle is power. Look at animal behaviour, let's say the typical alpha male stance that a gorilla takes when he wants to dominate other gorillas. The male stands on his hind legs, feet wide apart, beating his chest with his fists. We humans have parallel behavioural strategies. We use gestures that may be friendly while still displaying your superiority and power. It can be an arm casually placed on the backrest of your partner's chair or on his shoulders while walking. Your clothing has a certain effect but a much stronger influence is exerted by a straight posture and domination of as big a space around you as possible. Sport and dance are among activities that can greatly help you in developing a correct, natural stance. I, for example, owe my physical self-confidence and natural gait to tennis.
The last corner of our triangle belongs to warmth. Your partner will be very quickly able to tell whether you pretend or whether you are serious. Nobody has complete, permanent control over all the aspects of body language. Emotional intelligence plays a crucial role when establishing personal contact. We must be masters of our emotions and at the same time be able to illicit a positive response in others. When you need to form a closer relationship or get back your audience's attention, there are three failsafe topics you can use: children, partners, success and health. At least one of them will always work.
Personal warmth also means the ability to step into the shoes of others, in other words empathy, candid gratefulness, warm compliment and a shake of the hand. An interesting technique is "repainting" of your relationship with complicated people and situations. Take for example a situation where a car overtakes you in an aggressive way on the road. You have two options. Either you can get angry and let the situation get the better of you, or you can sit back and realise that you do not, in fact, know why the person did this. Maybe he was in a hurry to get a sick child to a hospital. This put the situation in a completely different light. There are moments where it is actually good for us to show some vulnerability and allow others to get closer to us. It has been proven that people do not like perfect individuals. Sometimes all it takes is a slip of the tongue that suddenly makes you look more human.
I hope that this reflection will help us see charisma as something that can be learned and acquired. However, the foundation on which we can build charisma is being true to yourself, being authentic. A charismatic person is always present in the moment, is aware of his power, is warm and has no need to pretend - he is himself.