I’ve blogged a number of times about charisma, how it’s not something you’re born with, but rather a learned skill. And further, that it’s something we all possess naturally as children – that total absorption in an emotion that we then radiate physically with our entire beings. Charisma is focus, I’ve found, and we can all re-learn to focus if only we can jettison our to-do lists – the ones that we carry around in our heads most of the time – and seize the moment of wonder, anger, delight, passion, joy, grief, of emotion, in short.
Now a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that charisma has six signs – three related to helping others feel comfortable, and three related to presence. It’s not entirely clear to me that these signs are truly useful, in the sense of something that you could work on to increase. And some of them sound like restatements of the word “charisma” in a phrase, but the list is a good start in any case.
I’ll take the items on the list in order and explore each a little further.
First, charismatic people make others feel comfortable. This is an interesting place to start, because the whole discussion of charisma, my contribution included, is focused on the hero, not her audience. To make charisma more about reception than projection is a departure, and probably a good one at that.
Second, the charismatic person smiles at people often. There’s lots of research that suggests that smiling makes you more attractive, as well as warming up the recipient, so it’s not particularly a surprise that smiling would help your charisma quotient. But smiling is also a way to make others feel more comfortable, so you could also argue that it’s the physical manifestation of the first item.
Third, charismatic people can get along with anyone. In the sense that we can easily imagine a charismatic person getting along with all walks of life, all classes of people, one imagines this item is probably true, but it sounds more like an effect of charisma.
Fourth, charismatic people have presence in a room. This item seems like a restatement of ‘charisma’.
Fifth, charismatic people have the ability to influence others. Again, this item sounds like an effect of charisma, not the essence of charisma itself.
Sixth, charismatic people know how to lead a group. While one could imagine specific cases where this item would be important, and revealing of charisma, on the whole it’s vague enough to be not very useful.
I’m a little disappointed by the study and the resulting list, frankly, because they seem like restatements of charisma in more words, or so vague as to be applicable in many ways and with many different kinds of people and levels of charisma. I’m not persuaded that the charisma nut has been cracked in any more a definitive way.
But I do like the focus on other people, the audience, the recipients of charisma, as a useful corrective to our obsession with charismatic people and the quality in general. It’s good to remember that charisma is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, and without an audience, the most charismatic person in the world is still just looking in a mirror.