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Weekly 3: The influence of charisma


Idea Journal Weekly 3

March 8 · Issue #129 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Solve the charisma equation. Acknowledge your bias against uncharismatic people. Watch out for good and bad charisma. (~5 min read)

#1. Charisma = presence + power + warmth
Author and entrepreneur Olivia Fox Cabane writes in her book The Charisma Myth that charisma is what “gets people to like you, to trust you, and want to be led by you.”
But being charismatic isn’t some innate magic that a person either has or doesn’t have. 
Instead, Cabane argues that being charismatic is the result of three learnable skills that you can practice: presence, power, and warmth.
Cabane defines presence as having a moment-to-moment awareness of what’s happening around you, rather than focusing on your own thoughts.
Imagine that a colleague walks into your office, wanting your opinion on some issue. You only have a few minutes before your next meeting, and you’re concerned that this might take more time than you have. 
If your mind wanders while he’s talking, you’ll not only feel anxious and have a hard time concentrating. You’ll also give him the impression that you’re restless and not paying attention, and he might conclude that you don’t care enough about him or his problem.
But if you’re present during this brief interaction, he will feel listened to and cared for. And because such full attention is rare, the interaction will be more memorable. 
Cabane recommends the following three-step exercise to practice becoming more present: 
1. Find a quiet place where you can close your eyes. You can sit or stand.
2. Set a timer for one minute. 
3. Once the timer begins, with your eyes closed, focus on your breath and the sensations it creates in your nostrils and stomach as it goes in and out. Pay attention to one breath at a time. But try to notice everything about that one breath. Think of each breath as someone you want to give your full attention to.
Being seen as powerful means being perceived as able to affect the world around you: through authority or influence over others, money, expertise, intelligence, or physical strength, or high social status. 
We look for clues of power in someone’s appearance, in how others react to them, and in their body language.
Cabane suggests that an easy way to project more power in your everyday interactions is to speak slowly. Visualize the contrast between a fast-talking, nervous teenager and the slow, deliberate tone of a judge delivering a verdict.
Warmth is goodwill toward others. As Cabane notes, being seen as warm means being perceived as any one of the following: altruistic, benevolent, caring, or willing to impact us in a positive way.
A simple way to increase your warmth is to smile more. Even in situations where you don’t think it’s appropriate to smile, “just thinking about smiling is enough to give your voice more warmth.”
The influence of power and warmth
Charisma has three components, but power and warmth are the two that we instinctively try to assess when we meet a new person.
Think about your own experience.
You’re meeting someone new, and automatically you’re trying to determine if they are a friend or foe, and whether they have the power to enact their intentions.
Someone who is powerful but not warm can be impressive, but they’re not necessarily perceived as charismatic. Instead, they may come across as arrogant or cold. 
And a person who is warm but not powerful can be likable, but is not necessarily perceived as charismatic. We may see them as overeager or desperate to please.
#2. Being powerful is not enough
Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham writes on his blog that people who are powerful but not charismatic tend to be disliked: “Their power makes them a target for criticism that they don’t have the charisma to disarm.”
In Graham’s view, this was Hillary Clinton’s problem in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.
And it can be a problem for any CEO who is “more of a builder than a schmoozer.” Even though the builder-type CEO is (like Clinton) often the best person for the job.
Graham acknowledges that there may not be a solution to this problem.
It’s human nature.
But we can try: “The best we can do is to recognize that it’s happening, and to understand that being a magnet for criticism is sometimes a sign not that someone is the wrong person for a job, but that they’re the right one.”
#3. Charisma comes with risks
Marketing guru Seth Godin writes on his blog that charisma works like magic: “It enables humans to hotwire connection and build bridges long before the facts on the ground are clear.”
Charisma can create rock stars and scientists. In the right hands, it’s an engine that can move us toward a better future — toward outcomes we couldn’t have achieved if we allowed ourselves to be paralyzed by the status quo.
But charisma creates con men too. When charisma is misused, it often leads to tragedy. We suspend disbelief and follow someone we should have been wary of.
As Godin points out, what’s true for people is also true for ideas: “some ideas, like some people, are more charismatic than others.”
Charismatic ideas that positively contribute to the culture (e.g., “don’t litter”) create a cycle that benefits all of us. On the other hand, negative charismatic ideas (e.g., false fear about vaccination) persist longer than they should.
For Godin, if you’re a marketer, then it’s your job to find and nurture charismatic ideas that you can be proud of.
You can start by looking at the ideas you’re currently trying to spread.
Are they charismatic enough to earn the effort you’re putting into them?
Other Weekly 3 issues about influence
Quote of the Week
“Everything we say or do is examined and interpreted by others for clues as to our intentions. We are silent? Perhaps it is because we are upset and want to make this clear. Or we are genuinely listening as a way of trying to impress with our politeness. No matter what we do, people will read into it attempts at influence, and they are not wrong in doing so. As social animals we cannot avoid constantly playing the game, whether we are conscious of this or not.”
- Author and researcher Robert Greene in his book The Laws of Human Nature
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