A Life Lesson and Charisma FailJan 13, 2021
FAIL: What Happens When You Think You’re Charismatic...and you’re NOT
In last month’s blog/vlog on Charisma, I got into two questions:
- WHAT IS CHARISMA?
- CAN CHARISMA BE LEARNED?
After batting a bunch of words around for a few minutes, I landed on this definition of charisma:
Charisma is the ability to authentically engage others in ways that result in the recipient experiencing positive self-perception as a consequence of the interaction.
I talked about Fox’s work on presence, power, and warmth. In brief, they mean….
Presence - the feeling the speaker gets of being truly listened to, understood, and the complete focus of your attention, and - for this moment in time - the centre of the world. You, as the would-be charismatic, engage intelligently and respectfully, when appropriate.
Power - the amount of influence you have, in both the material and abstract senses; also the way you hold and own the space, physically, vocally, and energetically.
Warmth - your true, well-meaning personality shines through in your interactions, causing others to feel accepted and understood.
I finished off the article with a declaration that charisma can be learned...but I left it there.
I don’t know about you, but I believe wholeheartedly that the universe, the gods, the creator, the supreme being - whatever you name the energy that weaves the world together - laughs at me on the reg. I know this pic is of the Northern Lights….or so you think. It’s actually the Universe’s laugh lines. And where I live I see them ALL THE TIME.
Today is a perfect example.
I work with you guys (hey ladies!) to define and sort through ideas and skills related to values, vision, and voice, working out your own definition of ‘authenticity’ and ‘eloquence’, basically so you can go out in the world and kick ass whenever and wherever (and however) you want.
We all agree that this is what I do - it’s my life’s work, and I love it. I work long and hard, year after year, to learn, reflect, and grow as a person, a leader, a coach, a mother, you name it. I know about what charisma entails, I have it, I use it, I teach it.
But today I heard a story about me.
I’m sharing this story for a couple of reasons: first, hearing this story about myself would have devastated me, in the past; second, telling this story to you shows you (I hope!) that we’re all learning, all the time.
Quite a while ago I was asked to be a part of a project, because of my expertise and perspectives in this field.
I’ve been merrily plugging along, and the project will be done shortly.
Everyone, at this point, is delighted with my work, and I am genuinely well-liked.
Today, however, I discovered that this was not the case at the start. In fact, my reputation had preceded me: I was (so I’ve been told) perceived as overbearing, intimidating, borderline-aggressive, and generally quite scary. Because of this reputation, I was nearly not included.
I had no idea.
You see, when I remembered (up ‘til today) the events that led up to being included, I perceived myself (in this environment) as strong, capable, well-spoken, confident, and forthright. All things I consider to be in the “positive” column.
But now I know that my remembrance is inflected with my intention and expectations (hey, I’m human, sadly….).
In the past, before my last major personal breakthrough, I would have reacted to this story with defensiveness, judgment, attack, and belittlement. Basically, without considering it closely, I would have gone straight to protecting my ego. And then I would have probably shut down. I would have avoided any ‘stretch’ opportunities: I would have gone into the downward spiral of imposter syndrome.
As for the defensiveness, I would have said inspired things like, “They just were afraid of a strong woman”, or “Oh sure, it works for men, but I have to act like a “lady/woman”?”, or “Just because I understood their jobs better than they did, they figure the only way to drag me down is to criticize skills they wish they had.”
Oh yes, I can be an obnoxious, uppity bitch when so inclined.
You see, there would have been only two options: either I’m perfect or I’m awful. And if I have to contend with “I’m awful”, I’m going to substitute in “they’re awful”, so I can feel safer (and less hurt). Of course, deep down I don’t believe “they’re awful”: I believe “I’m awful.”
And I hide.
Don’t be surprised if you recognize yourself in anything I’ve said.
I’m not original in this experience. Sadly.
Today, though, went differently. The first thing I did was this:
That reaction shocked the shit out of me.
It was kind of an ‘out-of-body’ moment - it was so organic, so real, so authentic. I didn’t have a second where I thought, “Oh, I’ll laugh it off, then they’ll think I’m not insulted.”
I recognized it as funny.
The Crux of Charisma
After the divulgement of this story, and the subsequent laughter, I got to thinking: Why did I laugh so freely at something that would have devastated me not all that long ago?
Sure, it’s certainly easier now, knowing that they like me, and what I didn’t know didn’t hurt me. I was prepared to write it off against that, knowing it wasn’t quite the answer.
All of a sudden, out of the blue, I was gobsmacked.
Have you guessed what I realized yet? If you remember that presence, power, and warmth are the prerequisite conditions for charisma, you might be starting to suspect that something was missing.
Oh yes indeed.
Let’s break it down:
- I had a presence: I was present, totally focused on the conversation, was comfortable, settled in my body, had my information, and conversational skills in high gear. I was engaged, asking relevant questions, and giving nonverbal indications I was listening.
- I had power: I was dressed and groomed appropriately, well, and with my own style that made me feel confident. I spoke well, used all of the right physical elements, chose the right words, had my arguments and information clearly laid out and at hand. Energetically, it was hard to miss I was in the room.
Oh, warmth! Warmth? Are you there, warmth??
What did the hell happen?
Warmth, remember, is how much someone gives us the impression they like us. And it’s not a “fake/like” sort of thing: it’s pretty darn hard to hose a human on this concept. We feel it. We have a sixth sense for it - and really, it’s about survival, isn’t it? Those that express warmth are also expressing their like for us: ‘like’ means this person is not likely a danger to us; further, if they ‘like’ us, they are also more inclined, statistically-speaking, to share their sabre-tooth tiger kill with us.
And, if I might stray into the purely speculative, and very possibly hokey, it might quite literally be sharing their warmth with us, in cave-people terms. It really WAS about survival, in that case.
Warmth is a measure we have of something we also call “authenticity” - or “realness”. While there are a lot of “tips & tricks” that can be used to enhance the perception of warmth, the truth is that it has to come from our own reality, curious, welcoming, open, caring, honest intentions.
In other words, we have to really KNOW who we are, what we value, what our vision is (what we want to accomplish), and HOW THE OTHER PERSON BENEFITS FROM OUR ACCOMPLISHING OUR GOAL(S).
It’s our acceptance of ourselves, our confidence, and our acceptance of others.
If it’s just about us, that’s NOT warmth, no matter how many “tricks” you use.
And when presence and power are in attendance, but warmth is nowhere to be found….well, words like “inauthentic”, “overbearing”, “dominating”, and “too much” come to mind. And YES, this CAN register as “acting like a guy” to many. Again, I don’t make the socio-cultural fabric we’re woven into. Again, sadly.
So, that day, I was a LOT of things, but the warmth was NOT one of them. Why? Well, given the vagaries of memory, this is what I can give you:
- I was anxious/nervous
- I wanted something for myself, and I gave no thought to what they might want
- I asked no questions, did nothing to make them feel more comfortable, and considered their needs about 0% of the time
- I talked more than they did
- I came off so confidently I’m pretty sure I was cocky
When I looked up “cocky” for an image for this story, I came up with this image of a woman, red-headed, dark makeup, black moto jacket, stylish dress, leaning back, hands behind her head. Once I stopped laughing, I dropped it in this blog: this is nearly IDENTICAL to how I dressed, sat, and looked that day.
All-in-all, not my finest work. Because I was all of these things, I fell back on my training and experience in presence and power - and, no doubt, I thought I was SO GOOD at those things that I could fool people. Emotional sleight-of-hand, really.
I guess I’m not much of a magician.
I could laugh today because I’ve done a lot of work since then. I dealt with my imposter syndrome, my tendency to ‘pose’ when under pressure, to capitulate to domineering behaviour when nervous. I’ve done a LOT of deep personal work to sort out my ability to stand confidently in my authentic self no matter the situation.
It is NOT easy sometimes.
Today I laughed because I recognized the truth in the story - and I didn’t have to forgive myself, because I didn’t blame myself.
I was able to recognize that my inability to bring my real warmth - my full, real self - to that literal table cost me my charisma. And, because I was pushing hard on the other two components, it backfired.
Luckily, the universe saw fit to laugh again and gave me another chance.
If you want to know more about how to access your own authentic warmth, a key part of charisma, through exploring your core values, big vision, and own voice, get in touch.
Go forth, be amazing.
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