Is charisma something we are born with or is it learned behaviour?
Prime the pump
March 5, 2024
Is charisma something we are born with or is it learned behaviour?

Who is that? This question is usually asked when a charismatic person enters a room. For a moment, conversations stop, everyone is distracted, if even for a second or two, as people take notice. If the charismatic person is among other speakers at an event, he is the one that people most look forward to hear. He is judged as being interesting even before he takes the stage. The charismatics are magnetic.

People find it hard to say no to them. As a result, charismatics have more options in general and, more opportunities, or that’s how it appears.

The charismatics have longed been admired by the non-charismatics as people with a natural ability to influence others to follow them easily. They are envied. The charismatics flaunt their charisma as if it was a natural ability. They exude superiority as if to say, look, we have this and others don’t. Today we discuss the topic of charisma – is it magic or learnt behaviour.

In her book The Charisma Myth, author Olivia Fox Cabane, shares a story about actress Marilyn Munroe.

It was 1955, New York City, in the middle of a busy workday, Marilyn walked down into Grand Central Terminal, stood there and waited for the subway, boarded the train and quietly sat among people and no one recognized her. However, when she reappeared onto the busy New York City sidewalks she decided to change from an average Norma Jean Baker to glamorous Marilyn Munroe. How she did it?

She just “fluffed up her hair and struck a pose.”

If you are wondering what it would be like to be more influential, more likeable, and more believable, you would be pleased to learn that according to the experts, charisma is not something that people are born with, nor is it magic, but a skill that could be learnt and practised.

Author Olivia Fox Cabane said that charisma can be broken down into three core elements, i.e. presence, power, and warmth. She said that people pick up on messages we often don’t even realize we’re sending through small changes in our body language.”

Over the next couple of weeks, we will explore how these three elements can be influenced.

A charismatic person is a person with presence. What is presence? It is the ability to appear engrossed in the person you are interacting with. To make that person feel like they are the only person in the room.

To give your undivided attention. To make the person feel that you are genuinely interested in what they are saying to you. It is to listen intensely without interruption. Presence is what people see when they are talking to you. If you appear distracted, if you are fidgeting and fiddling, you are considered to lack presence. Fox Cabane said “If you’re not fully present in an interaction, there’s a good chance that your eyes will glaze over or that your facial reactions will be a split-second delayed. Since the human mind can read facial expressions in as little as 17 milliseconds, the person you’re speaking with will likely notice even the tiniest delays in your reactions.”

Fox Cabane suggests three ways in which you can practise presence: Use sounds: Scan your environment for sounds. “Imagine that your ears are satellite dishes, passively and objectively registering sounds.” Your breath: “Pay attention to one breath at a time, try to notice everything about this one breath. Imagine that your breath is someone you want to give your full attention to.” Your toes:

“Focus your attention on the sensations in your toes. This forces your mind to sweep through your body, helping you to get into physical sensations of the moment.”

The key to being present in your interactions is to manage mind wandering. Using the element of presence is to make the person you are interacting with feel valued. Who does not like to feel important? It is the way charismatics make people feel why they are so likeable. It is one of the surest ways to win trust and favours with people. So, the next time you interact with someone, try to focus on either your breath, the sounds in your environment or the sensations in your toes, if you are focused on just one thing, you will appear to be intensely focused on the person you are speaking to and on what is being said.

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