The Secrets to Nurturing Charisma

The charism translates into a “divine gift of grace”. However, rather than just being an innate trait, charisma is something that can be learned and developed.

Having studied charisma for over 45 years, we know the elements that can make a person more charismatic. Some of them relate to ‘style’ and some parts of charisma involve ‘substance’ (knowing how to be).

Emotional expressiveness. If there is an innate element to charisma, it is this (although it can be developed). You can often spot a charismatic person as they walk through the door – they seem to light up the room. Our early research revealed that charismatic people have very high emotional expressiveness. They were very good at conveying emotions through their body language – tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures. They smiled easily and exuded a “passion” for life. They gladly hired others. But they also had a sense of control over their behavior. They smiled, laughed and sometimes cried, but never “exaggerated”. Their behavior was appropriate and matched the emotional tone of the situation and the other people in the room.

In many ways, this is what psychologists call “emotional intelligence,” which is the ability to convey emotions easily and accurately, but also in a controlled way. Of course, emotional intelligence and charisma also involve reading and understanding the emotions of others, which brings us to our second element of charisma.

Empathetic concern. Empathic concern is the ability to read the emotions, feelings, and attitudes of others and the ability to demonstrate that you are sympathetic. Charismatic people are able to “connect” with others. People who have met well-known charismatic figures – Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, JFK – have noted that they make you feel “like you’re the only person in the room.” Charismatic people try to understand others, their feelings and their concerns.

Know how. It loosely translates to “knowing how to be.” Charismatic people can fit into almost any social group or social situation. They are good at “working the room”, engaging others in social interactions, and thinking on their feet. They look cool and poised. Think of 007, James Bond, who controls all situations. While expressiveness and empathy are part of intelligence, know-how is more of “social intelligence”. [Read more about savoir-faire here].

Verbal elements. More recently, researchers have focused on charismatic leaders and their charismatic appeal. Much of this research focuses on verbal elements. Charismatic leaders speak in “picturesque” language, make good use of metaphors, use vivid storytelling to convey images and meaning, and use carefully chosen words and phrases to motivate others. At the level of more personal charisma, charismatic people are good conversationalists.

Although there are other elements to charisma, these are the main ones.

How to become more charismatic

Unfortunately, it is not easy to increase your “charisma quotient”. Like all good things, it takes hard work and dedication, but our research shows that people can become more charismatic.

“Observe” your own behavior. Become more aware of your verbal and non-verbal behavior. “Analyze” how you behave in different contexts and with different people. Work on becoming more expressive. How do you do that?

“Active listening” is essential for developing empathy and connecting with others. [Here is a quick guide].

“Have a return” by asking people you trust to provide it, and/or by filming yourself. You can even work on emotional expressiveness with a mirror.

“Practice” Put yourself in social situations. Take a public speaking course or join Toastmasters or another group. You can take improv, comedy, or stand-up classes. This will help you both become more aware of how you present yourself to others and also how you express yourself.

Here is a link to a book that explains charisma in detail and offers exercises to develop charisma.

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