What is charisma?
July 29, 2009 7:46 AM   Subscribe

What are the qualities of the most charismatic or magnetic person you know?

I'm interested in charisma. By this, I don't necessarily mean the attention-commanding, showy, "life of the party" sort, who always has a story or joke to tell. But rather, people who are genuinely, effortlessly likeable or magnetic, who both men and women seek to be around, and whose presence always enhances any occasion.

A good friend of mine fits the above description. He's instantly likeable, and while he's often not the center of attention in a group, his presence is always felt, and people are always seeking to have him around. But he has no single, standout quality that obviously makes him this way. He's not a great storyteller, and he isn't particularly funny. And while he's exceedingly bright, he doesn't often let this show in conversation, except in subtle and very natural ways. As best I can tell, the things that make him so charismatic are 1). He's very good-looking, in an all-American, non-threatening way; 2). He projects utter self-assuredness and confidence, in a weird way that somehow manages to straddle the line between modesty and arrogance; and 3). He's nice to people he meets and unfailingly polite, while often employing flattery in fairly subtle ways. I think the combination of someone who so obviously has it "together," but who also comes across as a good person who takes an interest in everyone he encounters, is what draws people to him.

Anyway, I'd be interested in hearing what the qualities are that make the most charismatic person you know the way they are. I'd also like to know whether you've ever tried to emulate these yourself, and what kinds of success you've had. Is charisma something that can be "improved" upon?
posted by decoherence to Human Relations (50 answers total) 125 users marked this as a favorite
High energy, confidence, intense interest in others.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:48 AM on July 29, 2009

I think you have to genuinely love yourself, and genuinely like other people. I think everything flows from that.
posted by mpls2 at 7:55 AM on July 29, 2009 [8 favorites]

posted by I love You at 7:58 AM on July 29, 2009

The most charismatic person I know is my mother. For years I thought of myself as an introvert, because I always thought of my mother as the archetype of an extrovert, and I knew I was quite unlike her.
A partial list of the qualities that make up her charisma:
An intense energy and boundless enthusiasm for life and people
An interest in the mundane details of other people's lives and the ability to remember and ask about them
Being completely confident and almost impervious to embarrassment -- always wiling to A-S-K
Walking tall -- she is only 5'3'' but always seems much taller
Giving frequent, sincere compliments
A wonderful smile
posted by peacheater at 8:03 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Charisma is largely an inborn trait that can't be taught. Certain people have a degree of magnetism or electricity to them that others just want to be around. Yes its confidence and energy and a bunch of other things, but it is more than the sum of its parts. It is charisma. You have some and your next door neighbor has some and your friend has a larger than average amount and Bruce Willis has more than your friend and Barack Obama has more than Bruce Willis. You can try to improve the type of things that you recognize that seem attractive in him, and that may make others want to be around you more, but you are constrained to a certain extent by your amount of inborn talent, much like someone who does not have a natural talent at a sport can practice and practice, but will never be great. It is what it is. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and charisma can be a very advantageous strength to have. While you can attempt to better yourself in that area, you may also want to focus on where your strengths lie and try to take advantage of those.
posted by ND¢ at 8:05 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Warmth, and the ability to make other people feel special.
posted by anniecat at 8:06 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't really have anything to contribute myself, but I will be monitoring this thread with great interest...

> while often employing flattery in fairly subtle ways

I'd be interested to hear about how that works?

Hmm, it would be cool if there were a site like succeedsocially.com that took things to the "next level" by collecting tips like the ones this thread is asking for... kind of a "OK, you have the basics; now let's wow everyone" thing.
posted by Jacen Solo at 8:10 AM on July 29, 2009

Sincerity. The moment you feel that manipulation or ulterior motives are involved, charisma evaporates.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:11 AM on July 29, 2009 [7 favorites]

Previous, somewhat similar, AskMe.
posted by permafrost at 8:11 AM on July 29, 2009

I've often wondered this myself, because the two most charismatic people I know -- able to make friends effortlessly, constantly surrounded by people who adore them and would love to be a part of whatever they're doing -- have also turned out to be two of the biggest jerks I've ever met. They both have this ability to make you feel like they have a special relationship with you, like you're the only person in the room with them when they're talking to you. I think it had to do with an ability to present themselves with humor while at the same time being very self-confident.
posted by oh really at 8:23 AM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think the formula for charisma is simple: convince people that you see them as better than they see themselves. If you make people feel like they're special -- smarter, funnier, braver, more beautiful -- than they think they are, they'll stick around you because they want to see themselves this way.

Great, charismatic leaders have done the same for their people. Churchill convinced the British that they were tough and brave. Washington convinced his soldiers that they were a real army. Spartacus convinced his men that they could beat the Roman Army.

I once shook hands with Bill Clinton, and for one tiny moment, he made me feel like the most important person in the world. That's charisma.

It's not far off from love, is it? When someone's in love with you, they see you as the most wonderful person in the world. It's a hell of a feeling. If you can do that for people you're not in love with, you've got charisma.
posted by musofire at 8:24 AM on July 29, 2009 [43 favorites]

Leil Lowndes' "How to Talk To Anyone" is, despite the title, almost a treatise on this very topic. It covers 92 ways to appear interesting, charismatic, and to be able to start conversations with anyone.

The points that stood out for me were being confident physically (giving people attention, turning to them, appearing to be solely interested in them - not distracted), not trying too hard for humor or to make jokes about people (this looks uncultured and crude), adopting your mood to the other person's mood initially before twisting it to be more positive (that is, if someone is shy or pissed off, you adapt to that very briefly then drag them to a more upbeat place), proper smiling, clever compliment giving (this is really hard but she provides a ton of approaches), and well.. I won't repeat the whole of the book, lol :)
posted by wackybrit at 8:25 AM on July 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

posted by Jaltcoh at 8:28 AM on July 29, 2009

In my opinion, charisma is the ability to make other people feel special because of your attention to them.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:31 AM on July 29, 2009

My dearest friend in the world is one of these people. Physically, she's tall (and unafraid to wear heels), which makes it easier for her to make eye contact at eye level with many men. Trust me, there's lots of that. She moves with a strength of energy that makes it clear that she's comfortable in her own space and comfortable entering others' space, confidently but not aggressively. She looks around a lot and makes it a point to notice something positive about everyone she interacts with and she smiles whenever, and wherever, she enters a room. On a recent visit, she whipped into a convenience store for a few things and left with men holding the door for her and carrying her purchases. I asked her how she did it and she said "I smiled!" It helps that her face is striking, but her core good energy and positive strength are what people respond to. The woman just radiates a kind of joy.

She has traveled widely and is unfazed by most things people tell her. Her response to a weird story--and yes, people tell her about their military experience in Liberia, or their whacked-out families--is always at a 90-degree angle to the average response, making people feel like she listens to their story in a more attentive way. She always treats strangers like they are interesting additions to her life, if only for a few minutes.

Extroverted? Oh my, yes. Willing to say yes to anything from whitewater rafting to clubbing to watching the skid loader contest at the county fair.

She has an amazing ability to respond to the world as it presents itself to her and doesn't agonize over how she presents herself, or how an encounter could go wrong, or what to say next*. Spontaneity (plus a lack of self-consciousness) is key. All of her energy comes from her interactions with the world outside of herself, and somewhere along the line, she decided to make each one as positive as possible. She is also a fine, intuitive judge of conversational boundaries and understands when a smile and a laugh will keep the conversation flowing better than a sincere probing question.

She flirts with the world--and at the level of everyday interactions with strangers, it flirts back. To her friends, she brings joy and the possibility of partaking in that joy just by being around her.

* True story: A state trooper for pulled her over for speeding. He asked, "Ma'am, what were you thinking?" Without hesitation, she replied, "Actually, officer, I was thinking about having HOT SEX with my boyfriend!" He backed away slowly and said, "Well, uh, just slow down then. Have a nice night!"
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:31 AM on July 29, 2009 [22 favorites]

Sidhedevil, peacheater, and anniecat have it, but I'll add some.

- Tremendous optimism and a glass-half-full outlook; pragmatic at the same time

- Empathy

- Energy
posted by jgirl at 8:32 AM on July 29, 2009

Response by poster: > while often employing flattery in fairly subtle ways

I'd be interested to hear about how that works?

A lot of "inclusive" language that has the effect of making the other person feel as if they, along with my friend, are in some separate and select group of people, e.g., "Yeah, but people like us aren't fooled by that, right?", or "Guys like us don't have to resort to those tactics to get women." The statements don't often correspond to reality -- he'll use the "guys like us" flattery with the most insecure and hapless of males (he is, incidentally, beloved by the ladies).
posted by decoherence at 8:32 AM on July 29, 2009

What Toastmasters says about "charisma"

I also don't think it's an "inborn trait" at all, but a very complicated mess of experiences combined with personality. The fact that Toastmasters exists and does well (I'm not a member but have considered joining) also implies to me that "charisma" can be learned with the proper observation, self-knowledge, and practice.
posted by Ky at 8:41 AM on July 29, 2009

Previously--not exactly the same question, but similar.

Dale Carnegie's classic "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is a guide to this. Charisma can be learned.

My most charismatic friend works as a door-to-door salesman. He's American-raised, though he's Chinese by heritage/race. He spent high school winning speech & debate contests, and now he's making bank talking people into buying home security systems.

His qualities? He always listens when you have something to say. He never bashes people, especially not to their face--I have heard him make genuine criticisms of people, but never random insults. When he does criticize people directly, it is in an encouraging way and trying to help them better themselves, never to put them down. He speaks slowly and confidently, though not too loud, enunciates well and uses good vocabulary. Always clean-shaven with a decent haircut wearing khaki shorts and polos. He doesn't focus on the bad things in life or let them bother him (or at least doesn't show it), but instead talks about the possibilities of life and the positives of what he's looking forward to and going through.

Being negative, even just making fun of other people, really brings the people around you down, even when you're talking about people who aren't present or talking about the negative things in your life and expecting people to sympathize with you. People are really drawn to positive energy.
posted by jgunsch at 8:50 AM on July 29, 2009 [7 favorites]

Your #1 (looks), unfortunately, plays too big a role in determining charisma. Consciously and unconsciously, people tend to want to be around and find good-looking people more charismatic.

So in answer to your question..being good-looking is waaayyy at the top of the list...heck, you put it as #1, no?
posted by teg4rvn at 8:51 AM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Quantum-boatloads of self-confidence.
He's my best friend and it's sometimes very hard not to feel very, very inferior to him when I'm around him. He's not at all cocky or in-your-face or alpha-male at all. He's simply extremely self-confident in all things. The kind of guy who wakes-up on a Saturday morning and decides to completely gut and remodel his kitchen, even though he's never done anything like it before. And just does it. On his own. And it turns out beautiful.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:51 AM on July 29, 2009

Warmth, empathy, excellent listening, and a willingness/confidence to interfere when my thinking goes off the rails.
posted by ransom at 9:02 AM on July 29, 2009

being good-looking is waaayyy at the top of the list

That's not the case for the people I'm thinking of. They're perfectly fine-looking, but not unusually good-looking. The best-looking people I know are also among the shyest people I know.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:05 AM on July 29, 2009

Seems like I always get slagged any time I link to Art of Manliness on here, but I think there are some interesting answers to your question in this article.
posted by jbickers at 9:22 AM on July 29, 2009

I want to reiterate the "smiling" part that MonkeyToes brought up. The first three personal acquaintances I thought of when I saw the question (one woman, two men) are almost always smiling.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:40 AM on July 29, 2009

One of my best friends is like this. All the men want to be him and all the women want to be with him. A mutual friend and I were actually trying to figure him out the other day. We finally decided that it was in his mystery. He only ever reveals bits of himself to people (and only to very close people), and we have to piece those bits together to get a small idea of who he is. But we love him any way.
posted by litterateur at 9:46 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

"The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made." -Jean Giraudoux
posted by adipocere at 9:51 AM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know if this will make sense, but the most charismatic people I've ever encountered are good at being still. I mean, they still run around/act crazy/yell and shout/whatever sometimes, but at their core there is this stillness that is so attractive. They are perfectly at home with themselves.

Some of the least charismatic people I've known, now that I think about it, have been very bad at stillness. Not in an ADD way, but in a general uncomfortable-in-your-own-skin way.

Isn't it those people who we find really charismatic - the ones who make us feel like we're the only people in the room? The still points of the turning world. That's who's charismatic.
posted by harperpitt at 9:54 AM on July 29, 2009 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't know if this will make sense, but the most charismatic people I've ever encountered are good at being still. I mean, they still run around/act crazy/yell and shout/whatever sometimes, but at their core there is this stillness that is so attractive. They are perfectly at home with themselves.

This seems closely related to confidence -- being comfortable in your own skin, feeling at home wherever you are. Not being cocky or arrogant, which puts people on edge and signals that you're not quite as confident as you want to make believe you are. Very confident people are usually very calm and content people. I've wondered before whether charisma might just boil down to self-confidence; so few people have utter, genuine confidence in themselves that when they find someone who does, it's immensely attractive, and even infectious.
posted by decoherence at 10:08 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have it. I listen. I smile. I look you in the eye and I hold my body up. I am confident. I am willing to talk to anyone in the room and am particularly nice to service staff such as waiters. Whenever I put some one down, it is me who the story is about. As much as I don't like humans in general, I like individuals a lot. Everybody has a story worth listening to. Once. But, I think you can have charisma without ever opening your mouth.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:10 AM on July 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

I agree with ND¢, I think it's a kind of talent that you're born with. One of my kids has it, he's adopted, so if it's genetic he didn't get it from me. When he was a baby strangers would walk up to me and hand me money to buy something for the baby. I shit you not. One smile from him and they were smitten.

It's gotten him in trouble over the years.
posted by mareli at 10:11 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

A sincere, open smile.
posted by Pax at 10:28 AM on July 29, 2009

It's gotten him in trouble over the years.

I seem to recall a fable of some sort where a mother is given one wish she can make for her son. She wishes for him to be loved by everyone he meets. Time passes and her son becomes a terrible and unhappy person. Then she is given the chance to redo her wish and she changes it to wishing for her son to love everyone he meets. He goes on to have a happy and fulfilling life and be a wonderful person.
posted by ND¢ at 10:32 AM on July 29, 2009 [13 favorites]

decoherence, I didn't know we'd met!
posted by holympus at 10:41 AM on July 29, 2009

As a follow up to my looks comment as it relates to charisma:

I don't think looks, per se, are what make one charismatic. It's just that quirks and idiosynchraces are more often viewed as contributing to the charm of a "looker" while the same quirks, etc. in the less good-looking are more likely viewed negatively; this is somewhat akin to the gorgeous guy vs. the no-so-good-looking guy using the same corny pick up line. In the former it's "cute" and in the latter it's "creepy"
posted by teg4rvn at 11:19 AM on July 29, 2009

As much as I don't like humans in general, I like individuals a lot.

I agree with this.

These are the qualities I've seen in charismatic people:

1) (KEY FACTOR) The charismatic people I meet genuinely like people, and make a point of showing it. Most of us tend to like anybody who seems to like and is enthusiastic about us (in a non-creepy way).

2) Charismatic people, who are incidentally adored by both sexes, always brighten up when they see practically anybody. That "practically anybody" appreciated the attention. "Hey, that guy/gal is pleased to see me? Sweet!" They rarely seem to show favorites.

3) Compared to most people, they rarely complain or talk shit about other people. If they do, it's "eh, she/he is all right, but sometimes they ...." variety. The attitude is "we're all human, and we're all in this together."

4) They never fight for attention. They never interrupt someone else's story, and make sure the other person is listen to, appreciated, and heard.

5) Flattery. Usually with humor.

6) They don't have to be extremely handsome or beautiful (and usually aren't), but they do care about looking decent. They don't smell and don't look like they just rolled out of bed.

7) They laugh pretty easily.
posted by thisperon at 11:47 AM on July 29, 2009 [5 favorites]

I have a buddy like this, it's amazing to just watch him meet new people. It isn't his looks, he's pretty average. I think the secret is that he behaves just like his dog and most people love dogs. Ok, so he isn't humping every stranger's leg but he looks very excited and interested when people talk, he always smiles, and he also has a lot of body contact - pats on the shoulder, touching someone's arm, etc. He exaggerates his expressions so that he is easy to read. Once he told me that he doesn't appreciate people who put up a fake persona and he himself has worked hard to be as genuine as he can even if that leaves him defenseless against asshats.
posted by idiotfactory at 11:52 AM on July 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also just to add to marrell and ND's point...the top two charismatic people I know have severely drama-filled, and some would say, difficult lives. People adoring you does not make for a life filled with sunshine and happiness.
posted by thisperon at 11:54 AM on July 29, 2009

I know someone like this. When she comes into a room, she instantly energizes it. Her qualities:

- Physical radiance. She’s attractive, but not beautiful. However, she seems to radiate. She is always smiling.
- Humour. She tells funny, self-deprecating stories. She’s an excellent storyteller, lots of dramatics.
- Empathy. She listens.
- Eye contact.
- Energy. She is up for most anything.

Interestingly, she's also considered fickle by some of her friends. I guess she makes people feel important...but only in the moment?
posted by yawper at 12:14 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Remember people's names. I'm notoriously bad at this -- partly because I have a shitte memory, partly because I meet a LOT of people -- but if you remember somebody's name it tells them in an unfakeable way that they are at least important enough to you to dedicate that little piece of your brain to remembering their name.

The most charismatic guy I know remembers not only people's first names, but their first, middle, AND last names!
posted by LordSludge at 12:54 PM on July 29, 2009

People tell me I have this. Here's what I'm like:

1)I have very few very close friends but I try to make everyone feel welcome. I genuinely don't like for people to feel excluded.
2) I try to remember people's names.
3) I am usually interested in hearing what people have to say and if I'm not, go to #1
4) I pay attention.
5) I generally don't dump on other people.
6) I don't talk shit about people
7) I'm generally not judgmental. Aside from bigots who I don't tolerate, I believe that everyone has their reasons for being who they are and having their beliefs. For instance, despite being an atheist, I respect other people's faiths. I also believe that when people tell you their problems, they are not looking for judgment, they are looking for answers, for understanding, even if they've done something they aren't proud of.
7) I work hard and when I'm done I try to do things I enjoy. If I don't enjoy something, lesson learned but no whining.
8) I don't find myself particularly attractive so I don't think that's the end all, be all of charisma.

I think this is a great question and has given me a lot to think about so, thanks!
posted by Sophie1 at 1:43 PM on July 29, 2009 [4 favorites]

I haven't read all of these responses, but the ones I read (and the people I know who fit these descriptions) sound like television stereotypes of charismatic people. Jerks. Jerks, being shorthand for completely inauthentic.

The truly magnetic people I've known have been unconcerned with having everyone like them or with presenting a consistent, confident facade. They've been self-aware and kind and open to themselves and others IF they deserve it.

In fact, these same people can be difficult to know at times, because they're honest about their opinions and how they feel. They might start an argument with the drunk soldier who "loved fightin' I-rackies," or not feel like going clubbing, or refuse to do something they think is stupid.

The qualities described in this thread apply equally to Patrick Bateman. These people might attract people in the same way that the character Christian Slater played in every movie in the 80's did, but it's not real. If that person WAS real they'd be an asshole. Authenticity is all that matters.
posted by cmoj at 1:48 PM on July 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

I agree, cmoj. My friend hates how popular he is (though he doesn't tell many people this, of course). He once confided in me that he felt he had enough friends and didn't really expect to make any new ones at this new college--it's funny how people creep into our lives, though. And it still doesn't stop us from making "The Most Interesting Man in the World" jokes about him.
posted by litterateur at 1:55 PM on July 29, 2009

I don't know what responses you've been reading, cmoj. I haven't heard anyone yet say that charismatic people care if someone likes them or not. I think the point many of us are making that is that charismatic people genuninely tend to like other people.

They've been self-aware and kind and open to themselves and others IF they deserve it.

I guess I'm fortunate to live in a pretty nice environment or culture, or something? Being kind and open to other people seems pretty standard and not unusual. I've never heard anyone, charismatic or not, around me measure whether another another deserves kindness or openness.
posted by thisperon at 2:51 PM on July 29, 2009

A consistently polite, if not pleasant, demeanor. Someone you can always count on being approachable.

There are people I know that are plenty nice and friendly most of the time, but those rare occasions where they're aloof and give curt, terse responses can make me more leery and self-conscious around them. Predictability can be a good thing.

Then again, I can be like that when I'm having a lousy day, but that doesn't stop some people from assuming I'm not, and approaching me thusly. While I'd certainly like to be the type who's open and cordial at all times, sometimes if I'm grumpy, I'd rather just stay that way. I can't fake pleasantness.

Another good quality is being considerate and acknowledging the presence of others (smiling, holding doors open), and not living in their head. This is something I noticed in someone (who didn't have it) just the other day.

I'm not particularly fond of those that are proud of being blunt and honest. Some might find (or claim they find) that refreshing, but I just think it makes them a buzzkill. There's a time and place for it, but not when it comes to mundane, everyday interactions.

The OP mentions "instant likeability," and I think people here have given two types of desirable traits in people: those you notice right away or early on, and those you notice over time. Someone can come off as immediately charismatic and charming, and slowly turn out to be a jerk. The opposite is also true.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:52 PM on July 29, 2009

I think charisma is also in the eye of the beholder. A young person will most likely be more taken / magnetized by someone than an older sage. When I was 21, I met people all the time who I thought were 'charismatic'. It wasn't until I was older that I could distinguish between charisma and extroversion.
posted by jasondigitized at 11:12 AM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was sort of annoyed when I wrote that, and perhaps worded some things more strongly at the expense of clarity.

"Deserve," has nothing to do with anything. It would have been much better to say that they've been self-aware and kind and open to themselves and others IF they are the kind of person that they really want to be around.

Also, on reflection, the kind of person I describe is not charismatic, but authentic. The OP's question is about the qualities of a certain affectation, not about what makes a complete person or something like that. I don't know if the OP, subsequent posters, I, or some combination of these conflated these characteristics, but that conflation is probably what my small rant was about.
posted by cmoj at 1:15 PM on July 30, 2009

"Dale Carnegie's classic "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is a guide to this. Charisma can be learned." - jgunsch

Absolutely. It takes a long time to make it seem and feel natural though, and it helps if you aren't too entrenched in bad habits beforehand, but absolutely, charisma can be learned.

Other books that are required reading on the topic:
* Robert B. Cialdini: Influence - Science And Practice
* David Lieberman: Get Anyone To Do Anything
posted by JensR at 6:47 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

The features the OP mentioned in his charismatic friend:

1) Good looks

As a rule, the charismatics I've met in my life haven't been especially good looking, and judging from the comments in this thread, many others have made the same observation. Great-looking people have people flocking around them because of natural human instincts, just as very rich people do. That doesn't necessarily mean they possess charisma.

I think thisperon put it well: "they do care about looking decent. They don't smell and don't look like they just rolled out of bed". But that's about as far as it goes in my experience.

2) Confidence

Confidence is a key element, no doubt. I'm not talking about 'alpha' type dominant confidence, just the kind of calm "comfortable in their own skin" confidence that makes the charismatic seem at peace in situations where others would become rattled or feel insecure

3) Politeness, subtle flattery, appreciation

Forget flattery. Give honest, sincere appreciation. Be "hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise," and people will cherish your words and treasure them and repeat them over a lifetime - repeat them years after you have forgotten them. - Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends And Influence People

This is actually one of the main points, if not the main point, of Carnegie's classic book. 'Flattery' by definition is insincere. Appreciation is the real thing -- and most of the time, people can spot the difference from a mile away.

Other features mentioned in the comments:

4) Intense / high energy

I wouldn't put this one on the list, at least not as part of the definition. I'm sure most of us know some of these high-energy extroverts, and some of those are charismatic, sure -- but not all charismatics have high energy. It's more of a style of charisma than a property of it.

5) Genuine interest in others / enthusiasm for people

I believe this one belongs at the top of the list along with confidence and sincere appreciation. Every charismatic I've ever met has had this incredible sincere interest in the people around them, and that interest is at the core of their ability to create immediate rapport with the people they meet.

6) Ability to make people feel special / important

This is a big one, and it is tied directly to #5 -- when you are genuinely interested in someone, in that moment they are the most fascinating, important person in the world.

"There is one all-important law of human conduct. If we obey that law, we shall almost never get into trouble. In fact, that law, if obeyed, will bring us countless friends and constant happiness. (...) The law is this: Always make the other person feel important. John Dewey, as we have already noted, said that the desire to be important is the deepest urge in human nature" - Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends And Influence People

And Lieberman agrees:
"Instantly generate the often-elusive and ever-important quality of charisma by making others feel important and special." - David Lieberman, Get Anyone To Do Anything

7) Optimism, plenty of smiles

I am a bit unsure about this one. It's obviously a trait of charismatics, but it's also a trait of creepy salesmen, overly naive people, and sleazeballs. Smiling has all sorts of nice side effects, so by all means, flash those pearly whites; but I'm not sure whether it's a core element of charisma or merely a consequence of the other elements. Lieberman is a big fan of smiling:

"Smiling accomplishes four powerful things: It conveys confidence, happiness, and enthusiasm, and most important, it shows acceptance (...) Have you ever wondered why dogs are so lovable? Because they greet us with complete acceptance. If you have a tail, then wag it. If you don't, then smile. " - David Lieberman, Get Anyone To Do Anything

8) Never bashing / insulting to others

I agree with this one as well. This is more powerful than you might think. It is not even an active thing you do, it's a thing you actively don't do. It's such a subtle quality, but it leaves a powerful mark on the people you meet, and I've seen it to some degree in every charismatic I've encountered.

Anyway, I'm just rambling here. Great post, interesting subject! I'm looking forward to reading more comments!
posted by JensR at 8:23 PM on August 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

I've thought about this a bit, being someone who has enjoyed some natural charisma.

There are a lot of tactics and mechanics that can be specified and learned, but I think it only boils down to one thing: making other people feel good.

The easiest way to do this, I've found, is to feel good one's self.

We are all empathetic beings. Experiencing an emotion and interacting with someone is giving them the emotion as well.

The most charismatic people feel great. Their warmth, energy, and love become too much to contain and spill out into the world like water overflowing a boiling pot.

How to get there? Oh man there are a lot of answers to that question. I've had some success faking charismatic behaviors, but then I worry about authenticity. Certain drugs have given me easy access to my core charisma. I think it's best in the long run to go inside-out, working on feeling good by oneself, for oneself. Here are some things that I've found reliably make me happier:
-Exercise and good diet
-Seeking to be in a "flow" state
-Hanging out with happy people
posted by dualityofmind at 12:16 AM on August 4, 2009

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