Charisma – Do You Need It?
By Tonya Wells – Charisma is one of the primary traits needed to influence others. In future articles, we will be taking a look at other traits required to influence others, but this article will focus strictly on charisma. What is it? How do you describe it? How do you know it when you see it? How effective is it really at getting those who have it what they want?
What is charisma?
Most people will tell you simply that they know it when they see it. Max Weber, the father of Sociology, defined the Greek word kharisma as the following:
“[A] certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are […] not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a leader. [A leader with charisma is] power legitimized on the basis of a leader’s exceptional personal qualities or the demonstration of extraordinary insight and accomplishment, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers.”
So, now we are starting to get somewhere. A charismatic person, either through a natural born gift or through learning to manipulate others has figured out how to influence others.
How effective is charisma at influencing others?
Can charisma influence or manipulate others, and how does one do it? If anyone has ever been around someone who is charasmatic, you know just by having been around this individual that a call to action is not even needed. You would do anything this person asked (within reason), just because they are so damned likeable! But why?! Since a verbal request is not needed, clearly we must look to the nonverbal actions of this individual.
Did you know that based on how well someone is able to influence others, scientists have figured out how to predict with over 80% accuracy the outcome of a negotiation, presentation of a business plan, or job interview in TWO MINUTES? Using Sociometers, scientists can monitor the data of subconscious nonverbal signals passed between individuals.
Research at New York University also shows that major decisions are made within the first 7 seconds of a meeting, mostly based upon nonverbal cues that are immediately perceived subconsciously by each person in the room. In just 7 seconds, we are able to assess someone’s trustworthiness, power, confidence, credibility, friendliness, status, and competence, and with surprising accuracy.
In yet another study conducted first in 1967, again in 1970, and most recently in 1990, Albert Mehrabian published some very important findings about verbal and nonverbal messages, and his findings have become known as the 7%-38%-55% rule or the 3 “Vs” which stand for Verbal, Vocal, and Visual.
- Verbal Words account for 7% of the message we actually hear.
- Voice or Vocal accounts for 38% of the message we actually hear.
- Visual Body Language accounts for 55% of the message we perceive.
So, what happens when someone sends us mixed messages? For example:
- Verbal – “I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I don’t have a problem with you.”
- Voice or Vocal – Sounds angry
- Visual – Arms crossed, avoiding eye contact, looks anxious and frowns
See what I mean? Clearly in this case it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the nonverbal message being given off here is that this person really DOES have a problem. He/she just doesn’t want to discuss it. Now, take this on to a contract negotiation with a client or a job interview situation and imagine how sweating or looking stressed could contradict the verbal message you are telling your client or potential hiring manager. In just 7 seconds, they can immediately perceive whether or not your body language backs up what you’re telling them.
Individuals with large amounts of charisma have either been born with the natural ability or have mastered through conscious effort the ability to match their body language and their tone of voice with the message they verbally want to get across with whomever they are talking.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently wrote a series called “Influence – How to Get It, How to Use It”. In this study, they noted that recent research from the field of psychology has shown that warmth and strength are the two main personality characteristics of an individual perceived to have influence, and that these two characteristics account for more than 90% of the impressions we have of them.
Warmth – This includes how lovable they are, their trustworthiness, and their ability to commune with everyone.
Strength – This includes how fearsome they are, their competence, and their organizational skills
When one or the other of these characteristics overruns the other, psychologists found it caused a negative reaction in others towards the person. Researchers also found that when warmth is established before strength, it quickly builds trust, influence, better communication and more of a willingness to listen, as well as the ability in others to actually ‘hear’ what the person is saying instead of hearing something totally different than what the person actually says.
I conducted my own informal poll amongst my friends and colleagues, and the traits they thought of most commonly when they hear the word “charisma” are confidence exuded by the individual, but not in an arrogant way; a relaxed composure; a good sense of humor that can instantly lighten a tense situation; and someone who exudes warmth.
For some specific things you can do to project more confidence, take a look at my next article – Top 20 Things You Can Do to Project More Charisma – for ways you can fake it until projecting charisma finally becomes more natural to you.
For Further Reading:
- How to Light Up a Room: 55 Techniques to Help You Increase Your Charisma, Build Rapport, and Make People Like You
- The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism
- Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion