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.