Ever notice how some people just naturally seem to shine and make friends. They’re well liked and seem to light up a room just by walking into it, and everyone wants to be around them? These people have one thing that most of us can only envy: charisma.
It’s a trait that is usually innate, but it can also be learned, at least to a degree. Maybe you’ll never lead your own cult but you can boost your power and influence at work and in your social realm by looking and learning.
Here are seven traits of charismatic people that we can all strive to emulate.
They listen. Charismatic people don’t suck the air out of a room by talking. They listen when others speak and aren’t just waiting for their turn to do so. Conventional wisdom says that if you spend an entire conversation listening to someone else, they will walk away thinking you’re the most fascinating person they’ve met in ages.
They make everyone feel like the most important person in the room. Leil Lowndes, author of How to Talk to Anyone, writes that there are two kinds of people in this life: Those who walk into a room and say, “well here I am!” And those who walk in and say, “There you are.” It is the “There you are” people who make others feel special.
People say this about Bill Clinton: He makes you feel like the most important person in the room. And this is a skill easily mastered. Look right at people, don’t look around, ask questions, smile, be interested.
I know one famous tabloid writer, who is very charismatic but also, I suspect, kind of evil. When I first met him he made me feel – say it with me! – like I was the most important person in the room. I have no problem understanding why people tell him secrets. It’s disconcerting.
They remember names and little details. Isn’t it impressive when someone you’ve met just once before asks how your partner and children are – by name? While most of us are standing there trying to figure out the name of the person we’re talking to – or where we know them from – charismatic individuals are wowing us with the powers of their memories, which make us feel like we are special because we are memorable.
If it doesn’t come naturally, you can use mnemonics or simply repeat the name to yourself 10 times. It doesn’t always work. I try and am often unsuccessful. But it’s worth keeping up the effort.
Make sure to limit this to information that they themselves have told you in the past. If you start mentioning the names of someone’s pets that you’ve only learned through cyber-stalking their Facebook page, you’ll come across not so much charismatic as creepy.
They tell good stories. The most interesting man in the world doesn’t always talk, but when he does, he makes it worth your while. He can tell you about an interaction with a barista and have you hanging on every word. He gets from A-Z in the tale without getting lost or hung up on useless details. The stories have a narrative arc and compelling characters, even if they only last two minutes. These anecdotes follow the flow of the conversation and are never non sequiturs.
Telling a good story is an art that can be learned.
They have confidence. Charismatic people stand tall and set their feet apart. They don’t shrink into themselves and stand in a corner or hang out close to wherever the ingestibles are in a room so they look like they have something to do. They know they have a right to be there. People appreciate this. Insecure, meek individuals make others uncomfortable.
Their smiles are genuine – or at least they look genuine. Charismatic people have a lot to smile about. People like them and they are generally successful and happy. But did you know that people can tell the difference between a real smile and a fake smile? Research suggests that real smiles have more social value than fake ones, and that even children can tell the difference.
The “real” or “Duchenne” smile, crinkles the area around the eyes and lifts the face, while a fake smile supposedly doesn’t. It is, of course, not exactly impossible to crinkle the area around your eyes by using your whole face to fake a smile. On the other hand, genuine smiles are more fun for everyone.
They are generous. They are generous with their time, their resources and, often their money. Charismatic people buy rounds and pick up the cheque. They are helpful and willing to aid you in making a connection when possible. Charismatic people are not stingy.
An added bonus to generosity is that it elicits a feeling of reciprocity in the recipient, and, as Robert Cialdini points out in Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion, the feeling of indebtedness is often disproportionate to the debt. So, if you buy someone lunch, they might feel disproportionately obliged to, say, give you a raise.
However, don’t be adding up all your small ‘generous’ gestures expecting to be owed some form of pay back. Keeping score isn’t charismatic.
Charismatic people are born, but they can also be made.