4 Ways to Boost Your Charisma
There are six core elements and you can develop every one.
Posted April 3, 2015 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Most people think that charisma is a mysterious quality that people are born with. In fact, the term charisma loosely translates to "a divine gift of grace.” However, there has been a century of research on charisma, and nearly a half-century focusing specifically on what makes a person charismatic. As a result, we have a much better understanding of this mysterious and elusive construct. We can also measure it, and identify methods to help develop individuals’ “personal charisma.”
Personal charisma is composed of a constellation of emotional and social skills. One way to think of this is by considering the popular terms “emotional intelligence” and “social intelligence.” Skills in emotional communication include spontaneous emotional expressiveness, the ability to enact emotions on cue, the ability to read others’ emotional and nonverbal cues, and the ability to regulate and control emotions. These are core components of emotional intelligence.
Skills in social communication include verbal speaking skills, the ability to engage others in social interaction, a knowledge of social roles and norms, an awareness of how one’s own social behavior impacts others, sophisticated social role-playing skills, and skills in managing impressions. These are the critical elements of social intelligence. Let’s look specifically at each one, and then turn to how you can enhance your personal charisma.
The 6 Elements of Personal Charisma
1. Emotional Expressiveness is the ability to express emotions to others. It is associated with being animated and energetic (emotionally), and, as the saying goes, the emotionally expressive person “wears her heart on her sleeve.” It is easy for this person to enact emotions and make feelings known to others. When we think of the charismatic person who “lights up the room,” we are referring to their emotional expressiveness.
2. Emotional Sensitivity is the flip side—the ability to read the subtle emotional cues of others. It is related to empathy (“I feel your pain”), and to being perceived as sensitive and caring. Both emotional expressiveness and emotional sensitivity are core elements of emotional intelligence. This is the charisma component that allows people to connect with others at a deep emotional level.
3. Emotional Control is the ability to regulate and control emotional expressions. It includes the ability to “hide” felt emotional states (maintain a “poker face”) and to use a different emotional expression as a mask. Charismatic persons are very skilled at controlling their emotions and always appearing, “calm, cool, and collected.”
Those are the core skills associated with emotional communication. The three remaining components involve skill in verbal and social communication and are more complex.
4. Social Expressiveness. This represents both verbal speaking skills, as well as the ability to engage others in social interaction and conversations. It is related to being extraverted and outgoing. It is the part of personal charisma that allows a charismatic person to both be a good public speaker, but also to “work the room” and engage with each individual on a meaningful level.
5. Social Sensitivity is a very complex social skill. It includes listening ability, particularly the ability to pick up on the subtleties of conversations and social interactions. It is also knowledge of social rules or norms. Individuals with personal charisma are poised and tactful. They are easily able to analyze people and social situations.
6. Social Control is a sophisticated social role-playing skill. Individuals possessing high levels of social control are able to feel comfortable in just about any social situation, and can easily become a part of a group. Taken together, social expressiveness and social control are related to, and predictive of, the kinds of people who are looked to as group leaders or spokespersons.
While possessing more of each of the dimensions makes you a more emotionally and socially skilled person (and enhances your charisma potential), it is also important that the different skill dimensions be in balance. In other words, being too high on one dimension, and too low on another can be problematic. For example, imagine a person who is highly emotionally expressive, but lacks emotional control. This individual will have trouble “turning it off” and toning down the expression of emotion when it is inappropriate. Conversely, too much emotional control, without expressiveness, leads to a person who seems emotionally cold and distant. It’s all about the amount of skill and balance among them.
So, how can you improve and strengthen these various social skill components of personal charisma? Well, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but it is possible to increase your charisma potential.
How to Enhance Personal Charisma
1. Become a More Effective Emotional Communicator. This includes working on sending, receiving/interpreting, and controlling the expression of emotion. Often, inexpressive persons are simply out of touch with their emotions. Self-reflection on your emotional experiences, and paying attention to how you communicate feelings can help. Practice expressions in a mirror, and get feedback from others. To develop your emotional sensitivity, become a people watcher, and study how others communicate emotions. Watch TV with the sound off and try to figure out what is happening by just focusing on nonverbal cues.
2. Become More Socially Aware and Motivated. A big part of social skills/intelligence is simply being motivated to learn more about social situations, and studying people. Work on active listening—focusing on what the other person is saying and reflecting back what you are hearing, rather than focusing on what you want to say. Engage more in social groups. Go to social gatherings and work on your social skills.
3. Charisma and the Essence of Savoir-Faire. Our research has shown that a big part of what makes people charismatic is that they have social poise and presence, what we call “savoir-faire.” They know how to behave in social situations (this is the skill of social control), they are attentive to others, and they make an effort to connect with people and have meaningful interactions (this is the skill of Social Expressiveness). They are careful in what they say and do, and they avoid getting angry, upset, or argumentative.
4. Putting it All Together. There are many myths about charisma. One is that charismatic people are “phony” and insincere. But our research suggests that working on your personal charisma actually allows you to connect with others in more meaningful ways. Conversations are more rewarding for both you and for others. As one of our participants in a “charisma training” program told us, “my girlfriend has noticed improvement. She says that I’m better able to express my feelings, and that has brought us closer together.”
Another myth is that charismatic people are Svengali-like individuals who try to manipulate others. While some may indeed use their social and interpersonal skills to take advantage of others (e.g., con artists), they are a small minority. Most of us want to improve our social skills—our charisma—in order to have more meaningful and rewarding relationships with others.
Riggio, R.E. (1987). The Charisma Quotient: What It Is, How to Get It, How to Use It. NY: Dodd-Mead.
Riggio, R.E., & Carney, D.C. (2003). Manual for the Social Skills Inventory (2nd ed.). Redwood City: MindGarden.