Some people are intoxicating to be with. You know the ones. They have a way of making you feel important, noticed, and they linger in your thoughts for a while after they’re gone – not (necessarily) in a romantic, falling in love kind of way, or an obsessive, ‘let’s see what our mutual friends, Google or Facebook, say about you’ kind of way, but in the kind of way that leaves you feeling bigger, more energised and with the impression that they’re someone pretty wonderful.
They captivate. They have you noticing, and when they speak, they have you listening, hearing and open to their influence. Sometimes they’ll shift your mood just by being with you for a while.
They’re sought after, enjoyed, trusted, remembered and influential. Their magic lies, not so much in what they say or do, but how they make you feel – and anyone can do it. Here’s how:
Tell your stories – but for the right reason.
It’s great to tell stories, as long as they’re told to connect, rather than to show people how clever, attractive or important you are. Stories told to connect are powerful. Stories that are told from a position of self importance won’t fool anyone. Be humble, funny, personal and a story that pulls tighter on a common between you both will be gold. There will be times when talking about your strengths will be exactly the way to go, but just make sure it’s for the right reasons.
Vulnerability is powerful. And charming. There are a few ways to do this – with praise, by being emotionally generous, or by telling a story which shows that you as less than perfect. Vulnerability can have the effect of communicating confidence, establishing trust in the people you’re talking to, and can increase your likeability by giving permission for others to take a risk or to be less than perfect themselves.
Let your body talk. Your mind is listening.
Charisma is a perfect blend of warmth and confidence. The connection between our mind and our body is a strong one, and what we do with our body, has the power to influence what we think and feel. To feel confident, act as though you are. Assuming a more confident pose will help actually change the way you feel. Stand small, and you’ll feel smaller, but expand a little (taller, more open) and you’ll feel more confident. Before you go into a social situation (or any situation in which a boost in confidence would come in handy), hold a confident pose for two minutes. Do it in private if that feels easier.
Research by Harvard professor Amy Cuddy has found that striking a power pose for two minutes (standing tall, chin raised, arms stretched, or legs apart with hands of hips – Wonder Woman style) initiates an increase in testosterone (the dominance hormone) and a decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone), which will increase feelings of confidence.
Show, don’t tell.
There’s just no short-cut to getting people to warm to you. We’ve all been with people who grab at a barely-there opportunity to talk about how great they are. ‘Sigh. I was back in my XXS pre-baby clothes within two weeks of giving birth. I think it all comes down to self-discipline – you know, nutrition, exercise and plenty of sleep. And effort … like … I spent ages finding the perfect nanny. And personal trainer. And personal chef. And my husband loves me for it, don’tcha baby!’ Ugh. Be patient and let people feel how good you are to be with – show them, don’t tell them. Let the other person be the centre of the world for a little while and feel what it’s like to have your attention and energy.
Interested is interesting.
Don’t worry about what you’re going to say. (Unless you’re getting paid to speak, and there’s an audience waiting to hear what you have to say then, yeah, worry.) The magic is in the listening – and it is like magic. Forget about trying to be interesting – that will come when you show interest in what someone has to say, and when it does come it will be effortless.
Go into a conversation with the intention of finding out something interesting about the other person. Everyone has a story to tell and the best people to be around are the ones who encourage and give space for that story to be told. The story doesn’t have to be a big one – it’s not just the big details that make up a life, the smaller ones are important too. Whether it’s a story about the day, the weekend, work, kids, pets or the bigger things that make us who we are – everyone has something to say. Be curious, and encouarge their story to life.
Shine the light on someone else.
Offering praise is such a wonderful thing to do, but it can feel risky. ‘What if it’s not received? What if they get the wrong idea? When praise is genuine and given with generous intent, it can transform a moment, a person, a day. Praise will always have the capacity to lift the person who is receiving it, as well as the person giving it – it really is that powerful. Praise will inspire, warm and strengthen a connection. Do it without limits, but make sure it’s genuine. You’ll never know the difference you could be making to someone.
Self-disclosure, food and money – they all have something in common. (Stay with me.) Research from Harvard University neuroscientists has found that self-disclosure activates the brain region associated with reward, triggering the same kind of happy that we get from food or money. It’s also the part of the brain that lights up with we find out that other people have the same opinion as we do, when we experience something funny, and when we catch a quick glimpse of someone kinda cute from the opposite sex, or whatever sex we’re attracted to. That doesn’t mean that everyone is a ‘hey how are you,’ away from sharing their life story, what it means is that when people share something, it feels good. Encourage self-disclosure from the person you’re with by being curious and by doing the little things that show you’re interested – nods, uh-huh, smiling.
Listen, without planning your response.
One of the things that makes people ordinary at listening is the tendency to be planning a response while the other person is talking. This immediately dilutes your attentiveness – and people can tell. Rather than thinking about a response, think about what you would like to know more about.
Be curious, more than ‘clever’. Research has shown that asking people to tell you more will instantly make you more likeable. When you encourage people to elaborate, those people will be more likely to want to spend time with you, more receptive to what you have to say, and more likely to judge what you’re saying as valid.
Check your ego at the door.
Invite opinion, but hold back on judgement. When you understand enough of someone’s story, the way they see the world usually starts to make sense. Ask questions that help you see the world through their eyes. It doesn’t mean you’ll agree with it, it just means that you can see how they personally got to their opinion. In the same circumstances, you might have got to a completely different one – and that’s okay. Showing interest doesn’t mean showing support for their point of view. It means that you’re open to listening, without judging, and this can feel captivating to be around. Let the person know that you would like to understand more about how they’ve arrived where they have, ‘I’d really like to understand – can you say more?
Hold on tight to your humanity.
Believe in the value and potential of others. Let the people you’re with feel noticed and important. The person who exudes confidence and positivity but believes they are better than everyone else will have limited influence, and limited likability. Generally, for these people, if they have influence it’s because they’ve manipulated things in that general direction, ‘You don’t have to believe that I’m Master of the entire freaking universe – I would never force my opinion on anyone because I’m, you know, great like that – but there might be a price to pay if you don’t, soooo, yeah … up to you.’. The only people who think arrogant people are good to be around are other arrogant people, though this will often end in a dogfight. Egos clashing with egos – you know how that’s going to end – usually with a fireball that can be seen from space through the eye of a needle.
Let go of being right.
Correcting someone is an instant rapport killer. Yes you might be right, but that doesn’t mean the other person is wrong. Even if they are, jumping to point that out will lose them. Research has found that when you say something that goes against what someone else believes, however right you are, their fight or flight response (the primitive, reactive, self-preservation part of the brain) will be activated. When this happens, the parts of the brain that are able to reason and think logically, will shut down as the person readies for the fight. As soon as it becomes about winning, someone has to lose – usually both people will lose in some way. This isn’t about being passive, but about preserving the connection and having the other person feel heard, because it’s the best way to make sure that you are.
Start a conversation with something positive and try to avoid your opening being about bad traffic, bad weather, bad food or bad news. There’s certainly a place for that, but just avoid letting it be right at the beginning. Positive words, positive feelings, positive impact.
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And end on a positive.
When people reflect on an experience, they’re drawing on their memory of the experience, rather than the experience itself. Research has found that there are two things that influence this – the experience at its most intense, and what the experience was like at the end. People will rate an experience more positively (even if it’s an unpleasant experience, like a colonoscopy, studying or putting their hands in freezing water), if the last part of the experience is pleasant. So – when it comes to say goodbye, rather than waving and walking, try adding in something positive, such as ‘I really enjoyed talking with you,’ or ‘This has been fun. I love your shoes by the way.’
Mirroring with words.
Listen to the last words someone says, then repeat the words or the feeling contained in the words. So if someone says, ‘I’m so busy at the moment. I just don’t know how I’m going to get everything done.’ Try something like, ‘Feeling stretched hey?’ Similarly, if someone says, ‘My husband is away at the moment,’ Try, ‘Oh, your husband is away?’ This will show that you ‘get it’, and will invite further disclosure, strengthening the connection and the feeling that you’re someone pretty wonderful to be around.
And anything else.
Words only make up 7% of what we communicate so a hefty part of an interaction tied up in non-verbals. People are more likely to warm to people who are like themselves, so to build a connection, mirror any of tone of voice, volume, speed of speech, posture, facial expression, breathing, eye contact or gestures. You don’t have to mirror everything – coming across as genuine is important – but the more someone can sense your similarity to them, which will happen through mirroring, the greater the potential for connection.
Push through the small talk.
You might have to wade through a bit of small talk but keep going, there will always be a point at which this is dwindles away and people share the things that are important. Everyone has something to say that is important and interesting. Eventually, you’ll be likely to find a common thread that will connect you – somewhere you’ve both been, someone you both know, something you’ve both experienced – there’ll be something.
We’re all in this human thing together and encouraging this discovery by showing interest, asking questions, asking for more information could lead to something unexpected. Having someone’s full attention feels wonderful – there’s nothing quite like it. Humans are wired to connect and being attentive, available and interested is a supercharged way to do this.
Find out what people love.
People shine when they talk about what they love. Ask people what they enjoy, why they do what they do, the best thing about their weekend/ week/ holiday/ kids. If you can give people the opportunity to talk about something that makes them light up, that warm, happy feeling they have while they’re talking will be associated with you.
The slow smile has it.
Research has shown that there is a way to smile – and slowly does it. People whose smiles take longer to emerge were rated as more attractive, trustworthy and less dominant than those whose smiles came on quickly. They were also judged to be more authentic. When you smile, make sure your eyes are involved. If your face smiles but your eyes get left behind, people will quickly know that you’re not really in it.
Get your happy on … like this.
At the heart of charisma, right in there with warmth and confidence, is positive emotion. Research has found that activating your smiling muscles by holding a pen lengthways between your teeth will make you feel happier. Try this, and let the happiness, warmth and confidence flow. Changing your body will change the way you feel, which will change the way you’re seen.
Anyone can learn to increase their charisma. Like anything, it might feel awkward at first, but the capacity to be captivating is in all of us. Being magnetic has nothing to do with being the life of the party, having plenty of life experience to share or having plenty to say. It’s about how people feel around you, and when you learn to do it well, you’ll be unforgettable.