What is Charisma?
News Posted: 5 March 2021
There are many, many definitions of charisma on the Internet. They usually start with defining the ancient Greek word – χάρισμα pronounced the same way as the English. The root of the Greek word charisma is χάρις(charis) meaning kindness, grace (of movement and speech) and charm. Someone possessing these qualities in whichever ways they may manifest has the gift of charisma.
Most modern day definitions of charisma preserve this idea of a gift you’re born with; an innate quality that permeates how you interact with the world. A person with charisma, we might think, is someone always in charge of him/herself, looks relaxed and knows what to say. They elicit positive responses from the people they meet.
Are you born with charisma?
I would dispute the fact that you are born with charisma and that it’s an innate gift of genetics or divine providence. Rather it’s a skills set that’s been integrated into the complex and idiosyncratic nature of a human being. These skills although they may be operating subconsciously in the charismatic person can be broken down into definable attributes.
People with Charisma have the following skills:
Make other people feel good
Charismatic people can build rapport with a wide range of people with different personality types. People with charisma have behavioural flexibility that allows them to adapt their behaviour to the person they are talking to. When people talk to someone who communicates in a similar way they feel comfortable, listened to and understood. It’s this same quality of making rapport that allows charismatic people to achieve their outcomes professionally and personally because people are much more likely to go along with the ideas of someone who is like them.
This links very much to the above ability to build rapport. However, it goes one step further. Trust may start with an easy, comfortable rapport, however, you’ll only trust someone if you see an authentic, genuine person who you feel is being themselves. If you sense they aren’t hiding facets of their personality from you, it’s natural to assume that what they’re saying is trustworthy.
Presence is itself a difficult quality to define. When someone you’re talking to is present they give you all of their attention, you feel you’re being listened to and seen. You feel you’re important. Who doesn’t want to feel that? Not only do you bring your authentic self wholly to the interaction, you aren’t apologetic, stressed, self-seeking or over-bearing. A safe space has been created for both people to express themselves.
Presence is also reflected in your body and voice. Someone who is present has body language and a voice that is confident but doesn’t want to dominate nor is acquiescent. Their gesture is open and their speech is committed. This somatic presence is created by an alignment between body, mind, voice and communication.
Have Warmth and Authority
People with charisma are able to be both authoritative and warm. Often we prefer one or other. It’s likely you’re able to display both warmth and authority but under pressure adopt the style that is more comfortable within that specific context. Charismatic people can draw on whichever style most benefits the context. They may also move from one to the other easily and effortlessly.
People with charisma have the communication skills to successfully transmit the above four points in whatever situation they find themselves. This could be at a meeting, giving a presentation, with a group of friends or being with their kids.
There is an effortless grace about how charismatic people communicate
Charisma - Extroversion and Introversion?
Since communication plays such a vital part in the creation of charisma we may associate extroversion as an important part of the process of being charismatic. Extraversion may allow the component parts of charisma to emerge more readily but I don’t think it’s a necessity. Academic papers and books on charisma in the workplace tend to define charisma in terms of extroversion and a larger than life persona. I find this limiting, short-sighted and mistaken.
If introverts can access, project and communicate their authentic selves out into their environment they are on the way to being charismatic as much as their extrovert counterparts.
The Charisma Switch
I’ve recently been working with a client who is a physics graduate from Oxford University. He’s a trained accountant who now works as a financial analyst. His CV is impressive and entirely focused on left brain, logical and analytical qualifications and work history.
We’ve worked on communication skills including voice work and presence. One of his outcomes was to talk in unprepared situations with credibility. We decided it would be challenging and entertaining if he could talk about non-work related subjects with ease, flow and gravitas. Charisma was not what we were aiming for.
My client started talking about his favourite football team. His voice, his gesture, the energy with which he spoke about the subject, his posture, the pace of his speech and the pauses connected to his thoughts in a wonderfully organic and natural way. But the result was so much more than a credible and well-delivered message.
His skills turned on the charisma switch. He began to reveal his fascinating inner world in a way that involved and communicated with me. The lights came on and lit up not only the brilliant financial analyst that he is but a charismatic speaker who is fascinating, entertaining and authentic. He even looked different. It was embodied communication that everyone would respond to and want to listen to. And then it was something more…….
I was taken by surprise by the suddenness of the transformation – and so was he! But practise, focus and a number of skills expertly executed and coming together at the same time had the cumulative effect of charisma.
You’ll have gathered by now that my client had a number of skills bubbling under his charisma. However, it’s time, energy and work - so why bother?
People with charisma get buy in for their ideas, their pitches, their investment proposals etc. and they do it without expending undue energy. Ironically, they achieve goals without seeming to be overly attached or focussed on the result. This is because, as I mentioned earlier, they appear so invested in the moment and in the person or people they’re speaking to that their objectives are not obvious. Also, charismatic people influence others to follow them with a combination of the five attributes I’ve mentioned above and their enthusiasm and energy.
Charisma is more than a set of skills, it’s more than your personality, it’s more than how you communicate or how your voice sounds. What is extraordinary about charisma is that it brings your best version of you to the table.
No One Style
There are as many versions of charisma as there are people and maybe some of those versions do not possess all of the five attributes I’ve mentioned above. People are endlessly fascinating, quirky and sometimes unfathomably intriguing and that is part of charisma too. It isn’t predictable and wouldn’t be charisma if it were.
Charisma- a definition
The following definition leaves out reference to professional expertise, leadership, extroversion, workplace status, class, education or any other notion that forces charisma into the accepted norms and biases of society. Here we go:
Charisma is the quality of authentically revealing the richness of your inner world and the ability to build relationships with other people to positively share this world so they feel both understood and influenced; there is also space in the communication process so the other person or people feel they can share the truth of their world.
Charisma is you in flow
Charisma is you in flow without effort or struggle. Charisma reveals who you are, conveys your unique essence which facilitates you to do whatever it is you want to do. That can be challenge at a meeting or having a conversation at a bus stop. Whether you are standing in front of 2000 people or one stranger charisma allows you to express your authentic self without shame, bravado or arrogance. When aligned with the integrity of your values and beliefs it can be a hugely positive, unifying force between yourself and others.
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