Have you ever felt a sneaky pang of envy because someone at work has been promoted ahead of you or scored a great project? Maybe they’ve been put in charge of a team and you’re left as one of the worker bees – or, if you’re in business, there might be someone doing similar work to you who seems to hit more home runs.
Even if you’re technically brilliant at what you do, if you don’t have that extra something that gets people on side, you’re likely to be watching opportunities slip through your fingers and into the grasp of that other person.
There’s no doubt, some people are born with it. They’ve had that charisma since toddlerhood and it’s with them for life. For the rest of us mere mortals, being able to engage – even captivate - other people is a learned skill. The great news is, we can all learn it.
The pay-offs can be huge. It’s no secret that people prefer to do business with those they like. Liking someone at face value is a stepping stone to deeper trust and respect, the kind of relationship you need if you’re going to win more business or get those golden opportunities.
What does it take to inject a bit of x-factor into your business life? These five behaviours come naturally to charismatic people (the rest of us need to work that little bit harder):
1. They see the conversation from the other person’s point of view.
Many people take an "I"-centred approach to communication. Every experience is seen solely through their eyes. Most sentences to come out of their mouths have a heavy dose of “I” and “me”.
Those who lock themselves into this type of communication are rarely aware they do it, but it’s obvious to everyone listening! Nothing builds a stronger barrier than having a conversation that’s all about you; the other person just happens to be in the same physical space.
They’re likely to be feeling uncomfortable, alienated, bored or downright annoyed. This is not the way to win hearts and minds.
Charismatic, influential communicators know at their core that effective interactions are all about the others in the conversation. They frame their communication as if looking through the other person’s eyes, using language and examples that make sense to the other person. This is basic stuff, and it’s amazing that most people don’t do it.
It can be interesting to consciously listen to yourself when you converse, and look at the way you write emails. How many times do you say “I” or “me” without any reference to the other person’s perspective?
If you’re guilty as charged, set yourself an exercise to focus on the other party to the communication. You might be surprised at the different response you get.
2. They make great eye contact.
Most of us learn to make good eye contact when speaking in public, but that lesson can get forgotten during everyday interactions.
Some people get eye contact very wrong. They either avoid it, looking decidedly shifty as they stare at the floor or gaze around the room, or they fix an unblinking death stare on their unfortunate victim. There’s nothing like that rabbit-in-the-headlight-gaze to lower the comfort level of a conversation.
I marvelled at this when I was a television reporter. During on-camera interviews I would hold the other person’s gaze while I was talking to them. Some people clearly found this excruciating and couldn’t maintain natural eye contact throughout the process.
Want to be perceived as open and honest? Be prepared to look the other person in the eye regardless of the topic of conversation; but rather than staring them down, look away occasionally too.
3. They smile and use body language to really listen.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the research that shows how little our actual words impact the overall effectiveness of our communication. Our tone of voice and body language make up the vast majority of tools we have to get our message across. Yet, most of the time we operate from a default position where we’re not conscious of what our body is doing and whether it’s helping or hindering our message.
I’m not suggesting fake or overdone gestures, but be aware of basics such as whether you’re leaning towards or away from the other person, whether your feet are pointed towards them or off to another part of the room, and if you are smiling and nodding at appropriate times.
If you’re sitting in a meeting room across a table from someone – and there are only two of you in the room – be aware that you have a physical barrier to communication. If you can, move your chair to the end of the table nearest the other person to enable you to talk diagonally across the table end.
Remember, it’s a fine line between a respectful distance and getting too close. We’re going for warm and friendly, not suffocating and sleazy.
4. They approach every situation having already seen a positive result.
The power of visualisation is well documented. Yes, you can visualise positive outcomes for your life on a large scale, and you can also use this technique for very down-to-earth situations including specific conversations.
Here’s how it works: imagine you need to talk to someone about a sensitive or unpleasant subject. You’re probably dreading it, and already imagining it going pear-shaped. Now, try a little brain-washing on yourself and focus on seeing the conversation in a positive light. Try to play out the whole scene in your mind, and make sure the ending is exactly the way you want it. Even if you don’t believe it, give it a go.
Going into that meeting having imagined a positive result, will influence everything about your approach. Your tone of voice, mannerisms, the words you choose, how you use your body, will all be influenced by your mindset which in turn will affect the immediate outcome of the conversation. I have seen this demonstrated many times by participants in my workshops.
You obviously cannot control what the other person says and does, but they will respond to your cues. You will have much more influence over the outcome than if you go in passively, or with a negative mindset.
I love the story about the opening of the first Disneyland, when someone purportedly remarked to Walt Disney’s wife that it was a shame that Walt hadn’t lived to see the momentous opening day. Her reply? “Oh, but he did!” Even while Disneyland was still a dream, Walt Disney saw it in its completed state. That coloured his every action and, in turn, influenced everyone around him.
We can apply this to our everyday conversations and get better results.
5. Rather than whinging, they find solutions.
If someone gets a great opportunity there’s a pretty good chance it’s not by accident. Perhaps they’ve put their hand up or shown they’re willing to take a risk. Maybe they put forward an idea when everyone else had a blank look on their face. They suggested something at the right time, or weren’t afraid to challenge another opinion.
Nothing pollutes a business environment more quickly than an infestation of whinging. Rather than adding to the cesspool, be the one who breaks free of it and comes up with solutions. Who knows, you might even motivate your colleagues to get on board. You're certainly more likely to stand out in a positive way if you're a source of inspiration.
Some of these ideas are simple, others take more practice. They can all be implemented in baby steps. It’s a matter of being conscious of the way you interact with people and choosing to try something different.
Naturally, you need your technical skills and expertise; froth and bubble alone will quickly subside. However, there’s no doubt that pumping up your charisma quotient will have a positive impact on your business and career.