The Charisma Myth: You CAN Become More Charismatic

There’s a scene in the movie Wedding Crashers where Vince Vaughn sits down with a priest.

The priest approaches him in the breakfast nook, and says “Hello, son. You okay?”

Vaughn’s character, obviously distressed about recent events, retorts, “Not now, Father. Please. No offense to ya. We might be on different wavelengths. “

After a brief pause, Vaughn continues:

“Think you’d just be spinning your wheels with me, but…have a little bit of a sacrament here. No one likes to drink alone.. we’ll set you up (*he pours the priest a drink. It’s 10am*). There you go. Get your hands on it. Take it while it’s hot. Take it while it’s hot! I’m going to pour until it’s on the trey…There ya go.”

Vaughn continues on a 2-minute rant. He uses hilarious stories, analogies, metaphors, and descriptive language. He speaks rapid fire. He has presence and power. He’s funny, and remarkably self-aware.

It’s the perfect depiction of what we think social skills and charisma look like: never running out of things to say, being insightful and thoughtful, yet light and playful. The ability to use our words to make people laugh, cry, and think, all in a few brief moments of interaction.


I was thinking about this scene over the weekend because of a poll my sister, Jill put on Instagram over the weekend. She asked whether or not charisma can be improved? A surprising number of people said, “No, we cannot.” 

You have what you’re dealt. Game over. 

We think of charisma should look like Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers. This expectation leaves a lot of us with either little to say (and feeling embarrassed and insecure about it) or too much to say because we’re afraid we’ll go unnoticed or unappreciated.

What often goes unnoticed in that Wedding Crashers scene is that Vaughn feels more affection and warmth towards the priest (who didn’t say one word) than vice versa.

The scene ends with a content Vince Vaughn, offering up his class for a toast. With the clink of whiskey glasses, and smile on his face, he looks at the priest and says, “I’m diggin’ talking with ya. You’re a really enlightened cat, and I like that about ya. I think you’re a special, special man.”

He gets up, and the priest offers his hand for a shake. Vaughn tells him, “Bring it in for the real thing. I love you. You’re a sweet man.” And kisses the priest right on the mouth.

This is a huge failure in our perception of charisma and leadership. Charisma isn’t being the center of attention. It isn’t being funny, or loud, or boastful. It has nothing to do with whether you are introverted or extroverted, or whether you like pickles on your burger or not (although pickles are gross and going without them is certainly a good first step).

Author Olivia Fox Cabane says, “being charismatic means making others feel comfortable, at ease, and good about themselves when they are around us.” 

Research from MIT Labs shows “What impacts people isn’t the words or content used. Rather, they remember how it felt to be speaking with you.”

You see, it’s less about becoming the ringmaster of the circus, and more about allowing others to be seen. 

Becoming Charismatic

We’ve established two facts about charisma:

  1. Charisma can be improved by introverts and extraverts alike. 
  2. Charisma is not about becoming seen by others, but by making others feel seen.

But how? 

It’s simple actually. It’s the ability to shine the spotlight on other people without fearing that our own light will burn out.

Poetic, I know. Allow me to explain. In a world of “Look at me!” the power lies with the people who are secure enough to say “I see you.” That’s what charisma is all about. If we make others feel valued, seen, and appreciated when we are with them, they will perceive us as likable and charismatic.

Try these tools:

1. Be Interested, To Be Interesting

Paradoxically, the more interested we become in others, the more interesting we become ourselves. The first principe to get people to like you in Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People is “Become genuinely interested in other people.” The key word is genuinely. We cannot fake this. When I am thinking about how repulsive it is that you put pickles on your burger, you are going to pick up on that.

When I am nodding along to your analysis of NASCAR, you are going to realize fairly quickly that I really don’t care. But it’s my responsibility to shift the conversation away from pickles and NASCAR and towards March Madness and fitness. It’s my job to do this by asking thoughtful question, listening attentively, staying the F&@% off my phone, and actually being interested in what you have to say. 

Give compliments, ask follow-up questions, and stay off your phone and you may not have Vince Vaughn oratory skills, but you’ll be well on your way to becoming the priest (that sounded weird…).

2. Communicate Charismatically

“Embedded in the notion of charisma is empathy, I don’t see how you can be an effective leader without this ability” – Angel Martinez, chairman, Deckers Outdoors

Listening is an absolute requirement for charisma. It is hands-down the most anti-climatic, boring advice in the world. I have been trying for years to say it in sexy ways (like here, herehere, here, and here). No matter what I do, it’s still not sexy and it’s still essential to connecting with others. 

The worst part? You can’t fake it. You can’t fake being present. You can’t fake listening. People know when we’re not fully presence. It’s some sort of subconscious magic that people pick up on. 

Presence is a skill – a tough one at that. “Not only are we wired for novelty, distraction, sights, smells, or sounds, but marketing and distraction is at an all-time high.” says Cabane in the Charisma Myth. 

In 2017, our attention is the most valuable resource we can give somebody.

How do you know if you are blowing it? Are you interrupting? Are you simply waiting your turn so you can say what’s on your mind?  Do you remember their name? Really? They just said it. Communicating charismatically has nothing to do with what you say, and everything to do with what you hear. 

3. Connect Charismatically

Opposites may attract, but commonalities connect. Charismatic people have a knack for making “us” feel like we’re the same person. “Wait, you use to live in Salt Lake City? So did I! Amazing. It’s like we’re twins.”

“OMG, you think pickles are repulsive? Me too!”

These things may seem insignificant, but collectively they are huge. When we find small overlaps with others interests and experiences, we feel like we really are one in the same, and therefore feel more positively towards one another. And remember, charisma is all about how somebody feels towards you. If you and I feel like we are the same person, we’ll naturally be drawn to one another. I couldn’t possibly hate somebody who is so similar to me. 

Do I think we are meant to like everyone? No. Do I think everyone will like us? No. BUT I truly believe we can connect with anybody given the right toolkit. I believe that we all can become  at least a little more charismatic. Maybe you can’t be interested in anybody but yourself… Maybe you can’t help yourself from interrupting constantly, never listen, get on your phone every 30-seconds, and get pickles on your burger. If this is you, then yes, you’re screwed. But a vast majority of people, even if we don’t become the hilarious, extroverted Vince Vaughn, can at least improve our charisma slightly, even by just a pickle. 





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