Charisma: What It Is & How to Cultivate It

Charisma: What It Is & How to Cultivate It

You can't always define it, but some people just have charisma. And whether it’s at work or in one’s personal life, if you have it, it can massively work to your advantage. But is charisma something you’re born with or something you can learn to be better at? We went to two of the UK’s leading psychotherapists and empowerment mentors to find out…

First of all, what do we mean by the term ‘charisma’? 

In life, we come across all sorts of personalities, but some are better able to influence friends, family and even co-workers, than others. “This uncommon ability that can affect all kinds of relationships is what we call charisma,” explains psychotherapist and neuroscientist Belynder Walia. “But without testimony or continuity, it’s extremely hard to describe, as there are many different types of charismatic people.” To try and nail down a definition,  self-growth strategist, empowerment mentor & instructor at House of Wisdom  Emily Wysock-Wright offers the following: “Try to see charisma as what you think about yourself – a compelling kind of self-confidence which shines through when you relate to others. It’s the way somebody just ‘has’ with people – a combination of social cues, subconscious behaviours and physical expressions. While it isn’t a tangible trait or something which can be measured, it’s a very magnetic trait.”

What are the main attributes of a charismatic person?

Although experts may not land on a single definition, they generally agree on who can be described as charismatic. “The main attribute is having a powerful personality – someone who has confidence and poise,” says Belynder. “They’re usually a great listener and communicator, someone who can influence people positively and create a vision with common goals.” Emily agrees that the way a person interacts with others is a crucial component of charisma. “It’s usual for these people to have excellent, versatile communication skills, including the kind of magnetic confidence we would all be jealous of. Without trying, they naturally alter the energy of a room.”

Can you learn to be charismatic?

While people tend to be born with certain genetic personality traits, experts believe it is possible to learn to be more charismatic. “We are not born with an immovable personality,” explains Belynder. “Our individuality is something that develops over time, and therefore, we can quite easily cultivate charisma. The main way is by observing and learning from people who you think exude it. Just remember, developing charisma might be easier for some people than it is for others – it’s also maintaining it that’s the challenge.” For Emily, learning to be more charismatic comes down to how self-confident you are in the first place. “Charisma equates to a healthy sense of self-esteem, correlated with excellent interpersonal skills. Of course, it can be something you practice, but each person will have their own way of becoming more charismatic, depending on their own environment.”

While people tend to be born with certain genetic personality traits, experts believe it is possible to learn to be more charismatic.

When and why is charisma helpful?

Whether it’s an important job interview, a first date or meeting a new group of friends, we’d all agree a little bit of charisma makes daily interactions less nerve-wracking. “When we meet people for the first time, we often want to leave a positive impression,” agrees Belynder. “We want to be remembered for a good reason, and that’s why charismatic people are good at showing their true emotions and being authentic. However, there are people who simply ‘act’ in a certain way to make others believe a version of who they are. So, while we can all develop better charisma, it’s more important to know who you are and be yourself as much as possible.” Emily agrees, adding that a bit of humility can work wonders – particularly in a work environment. “Having the ability to communicate in the moment comes across as authentic and can be particularly beneficial in the work environment, especially in leadership situations. But humility is just as important – it’s this which tends to lead to real change and personal growth.” 

What are some simple ways to develop more charisma at work?

“Confidence, good communication skills and being an attentive listener are just three ways to come across as more charismatic at work,” offers Belynder. “Charismatic people can usually communicate their message clearly and concisely – and they know when to be serious and when to have a sense of humour.” In addition, both Emily and Belynder recommend maintaining open, relaxed, body language, including lots of eye contact. “It’s important not to come across as intimidating,” cautions Belynder. “Instead, charismatic people will look out for valued feedback and clarify their position, so everyone feels part of the team.” Emily agrees: “Try to work on enhancing your communication skills – this could be non-verbal communication skills, as well presentation skills. Body language is also something lots of people overlook. Finally, create a space for honest and open feedback. Develop compassion for the people you work with and encourage them to be forthcoming about their ideas.”

And what about in your personal life?

Both Emily and Belynder agree developing any type of relationship requires genuine authenticity. “A charismatic person will be exactly that,” says Belynder. “They’re usually an excellent listener and communicator, respectful and thoughtful, and extremely considerate and empathetic. In order to become more charismatic, you have to be able to make others feel at ease. Do this by showing real attention to the people around you: remembering details about their life and gaining their respect and trust will help you build a good foundation.” Emily adds it’s important not to forget about body language, either. “Try to mirror their actions and maintain eye contact – removing distractions when you’re communicating can be a great place to start. Really invest your attention and focus on the other person and bring your mind back to the present. Be curious and disable any potential defensive mechanisms. At the core, it’s about learning to value what you have to say in any situation.”

Confidence, good communication skills and being an attentive listener are just three ways to come across as more charismatic at work.

Any advice for being charismatic on a first date?

“My advice is to be in the moment,” says Belynder. “Be present and show some appreciation for the time this person has taken to meet you. A genuine and sincere smile is worth its weight in gold, too. Try to be engaged, listen attentively and maintain eye contact. Whether you pursue an eventual relationship or not, being polite and courteous is a very effective way of getting someone to like you. Remember, if you have self-respect, you’ll often receive it back.” 

Being present is a theme – how easy is this in reality? 

“Being present isn’t always easy,” admits Belynder. “And in my opinion, being ‘in the moment’ has a lot to do with confidence, and maintaining charisma ultimately comes down to being able to deal with any issue, at any moment. Say for instance, you’re speaking to a large audience in an auditorium. Suddenly the fire alarm goes off or someone faints – a charismatic, self-confident person can deal with these setbacks and keep others calm amid the chaos.” Emily adds: “Being charismatic is all about being truly engaged and you can’t do that if you’re disconnected from what’s happening. It’s about making others feel good, and to do that you need eye contact, open body language and effective listening and communication skills.”

So how do you become a better listener?

In short, experts agree that if you don’t take the time to listen, you probably haven’t got any charisma. “If you don’t possess this ability then you don’t have good communication skills,” explains Belynder. “Communication plays such an important role in a charismatic personality. Try to acknowledge the people you’re speaking to by using positive body language and comprehend what they’re really saying. That way, you’ll make people feel appreciated and understood – and that you’re not just with them physically, but also emotionally and mentally.”

The difference between charisma and arrogance is to try and keep your own judgements or expectations in check.

How do you avoid crossing the line between charisma and arrogance?

“Cultivating charisma is a process that requires a real observation of yourself,” warns Belynder. “It’s not about being loud or wanting to be heard. The difference between charisma and arrogance is to try and keep your own judgements or expectations in check. A charismatic person is able identify the behaviours that make them feel comfortable and adapt to the circumstances without displaying any disregard or disrespect towards others.” Conversely, adds Belynder, an arrogant person might find it hard to admit any fault within themselves. “Charisma is about encouraging others to feel good about themselves,” agrees Emily. “Self-importance or arrogance rarely comes across as charismatic, as the communication comes from a different angle – it’s more focused on showing off about yourself.” 

If you’re charismatic, are you automatically more likeable?

Likeability is an important issue not to be confused with being charismatic, warn the experts. “Charisma is about what one thinks about themselves, rather than concerning themselves about being likeable,” warns Belynder. “Remember, charismatic people aren’t trying to turn themselves into someone else. It’s not about blowing your own trumpet, but making other people feel good – and that’s what makes someone likeable. If other people feel valuable when they’re around you, they’ll recognise it’s you that’s making them feel that way.” Emily warns that, sometimes, charisma does have the potential to backfire. “Our brains are wired to relate positively, so there is the chance you’ll come across as more likeable. However, it’s important to bear in mind that people with lower self-esteem might feel threatened by charismatic people, as they don’t always understand it.”

Any final words of wisdom?

“The most important thing is to be genuine,” says Belynder. “To know your own self-worth, have self-respect and practice self-love. When you like who you are, you’ll enjoy being in the presence of others. It’s really that simple.” Done right, Belynder says charisma can also equate to a more optimistic outlook and stronger moral compass, too. “Treat people the way you would want to be and listen to others. When you invest your attention and focus on them, they invest in you.  Ultimately, you’re gradually earning people’s respect and trust, which is what we all want.” Emily adds: “Being charismatic is all about living with purpose and cultivating an innate presence to relate to others in a naturally empowering way. It’s about allowing others to feel their place in the world. Just remember – it’s not about giving yourself away, proving yourself or living up to external expectations.”

Belynder Walia, is a qualified psychotherapist and neuroscientist recognised by the British Psychological Society and the International Council of Psychotherapists. Emily Wysock-Wright is a self-growth strategist, empowerment mentor and instructor at House of Wisdom.

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