What does your body language communicate?
Prime the pump
March 19, 2024
What does your body language communicate?

Olivia Fox Cabane in her book ‘The Charisma Myth’ shares a story of William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli who were both politicians contesting the 1886 United Kingdom elections. William Gladstone was described as a high-status man, a reputable politician, with influential connections, superior intelligence and knowledge. Benjamin Disraeli too had high status, political weight, knowledge, intelligence, and wit.

It is said that a young reporter had the esteemed honour of dining with both gentlemen in the days leading up to the elections. Her impressions of the two men were, Gladstone made her feel like he was the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and maybe he was. Disraeli made her feel like she was the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Both men possessed power, but only one had power and warmth.

You may be the brightest bulb in the chandelier but, if you lack charisma, you could appear powerless.

When we were last here, we started a conversation on whether charisma was magic, a gift you were born with or learned behaviour. We established, based on author Olivia Fox Cabane’s book “The Charisma Myth” that there are basically three core elements to charisma – power, warmth and presence and we summarized what is meant by presence and how you can exhibit presence.

Today, one of the most sought-after character traits is power. A level of superiority whether it is because of stature or status, wealth, intelligence, social influences, or physical strength. When we meet someone for the first time, we assess them to determine their level of power and where it comes from.

We look at their posture and body language, what they are wearing, at how people relate to them and listen for substance in the content of their conversation. According to Fox Cabane, primarily, you evaluate warmth through people’s body language and behaviour. Power on its own can repel. It is often interpreted as cold, egotistic, or detached, but a blend of power and warmth is what people refer to as spellbound or magic.

Successful salespeople are some of the most charismatic people there are. They can influence people to spend what they did not plan to spend, not by what comes out of their mouth but by their body language. Has anyone ever tried convincing you of something, but you were not convinced because they were sending you mixed messages – vocalizing one thing and their body language projecting something else? On the other hand, have you ever trusted someone, decided to support someone, or aligned with someone purely based on the image they projected – body language? Fox Cabane said “For charisma, you body language matters more than your words do. No matter how powerful your message or how skilfully crafted your pitch, if your body language is wrong, you won’t be charismatic. On the other hand, with the right body language, you can be charismatic without saying a word.

Heat, pain, anxiety, stress and discomfort can be obstacles to charisma because if you are distracted by them, it can prevent you from projecting presence, power and warmth. It is natural for your body to manifest what your mind is thinking or what it believes. For example, stand in front of a mirror and allow your mind to go back to a traumatic experience that caused you pain and look at how what you are thinking registers on your face. Then, imagine that you were gifted with something that you had a deep longing for, and you are elated. Look at how the joy or pleasure you are feeling is registered on your face. How about this, imagine that you are in the funeral service of a family member, you will never see that person ever again in this life. Imagine hearing the sobbing of other family members around you.

You are feeling emotional, right?

Ever wonder how someone can leave a constituent’s house after sharing thunderous laughs and a few houses down the street be moved to tears at another constituent’s sad story? It is being able to be present in the moment. That’s showing presence and warmth and in and of itself exudes power.

Think about it for a moment, what is it that really makes most politicians so likeable, is it what they do within the constituencies or the way they make people feel when they interact with them?

Next week we will look at how you can overcome obstacles to charisma. In the meantime, Fox Cabane says that three things you can do for quick charisma boosts are: “(i) Lower the intonation of your voice at the end of your sentences. (ii) Reduce how quickly and how often you nod. (iii) Pause for two full seconds before you speak.”


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