charismatic people

5 Paradoxical Habits of Truly Charismatic People

This article was last updated on December 29, 2015

A lot of charismatic tips can seem trite and overdone. Like: touch frequently, lower your vocal tonality, maintain rock solid eye contact, cut filler words, exude ebullient energy.

All of those things are true.  You’ve just heard them before.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned that have contradicted conventional wisdom and even the advice of some of my hero’s (Dale Carnegie, I’m looking at you).  They seem paradoxical, but actually contribute to a person being more charismatic.

5 Paradoxical Habits of Truly Charismatic People

How to be charismatic: Not diffusing tension earns respect

I have a buddy, Tom, who was at a meeting with the president of his company.  The president is worth literally a hundred million dollars and has direct firing power of every employee.  After a disagreement, the president made this crack at my buddy:

“Don’t be a pussy Tom!”

Tom didn’t want to lose his job.  So you might think the right way to handle this would be to feign a laugh.  Play it safe.  After all one of the most common pieces of advice I give is “smile more.”  Just about everyone I have ever worked with would improve the impression they made by smiling more.

But this is not to be confused for “smile always.”  In fact there are times that it is critical that you NOT smile.  This was one of them.

So Tom looked straight back at David.  He said in a slow, measured tone, ”David, don’t ever call me a pussy again.”  Everyone paused.  Silence hung in the air.  Tom just held his stare.  He did not smile.

David broke the silence: “Okay, I’m sorry.  It won’t happen again.”

And that was it.  Tom didn’t get fired.  Everyone in the office respected him more.  And he never got called a pussy again.

So if you’re in a conversation and someone cracks a joke you find racist.  Don’t laugh.  Or if someone starts making fun at your expense and you think they’ve crossed a line.  Don’t smile though it.

This doesn’t mean be a humorless stick in the mud.  It’s good to laugh at yourself. But in cases where people are acting like jerks, charismatic people do not reward them with a smile of approval.  No matter what their status or rank.

Telling people you disagree with their worldview can make them like you more

When I first got to Brazil, I found myself at this swanky party in the Copacabana Palace.  Some new friends had gotten me on the list, so I put on my best (only) button down and

Before long I spotted a beautiful Brazilian girl and struck up conversation with her.  After a few sentences, she detected an accent and asked where I was from.  I told her I was from the US and she was shocked.

“Wow, you speak excellent Portuguese!  You must be a really intelligent guy.  Not many people here are worldly.”

Now I was definitely tempted to milk that complement.  To play into her stereotype and tell her, yes, I am a worldly globetrotting, language genius.  Instead I gave her my honest take:

“I really appreciate that.  But the truth is my portuguese is only as good as it is because I practiced Spanish for several years.  So I’m not some language savant.  And beyond that, I actually don’t think intelligence is the most important thing.  Sure it’s cool when people can pick up a language quickly, but for me, t the most important trait I look for in other people is always how much fun I have with them.  I’d take that over “intelligence” any day.”

“But fun is so shallow.  I’d rather be with a guy that was worldly and intelligent”

“I’d take both.  But what draws me to someone is not their IQ, but how much I enjoy their company.”

We ended that topic of conversation by agreeing to disagree.  But something interesting happened.  She wound up liking me MORE than when she just thought I was smart.  By disagreeing with her and sticking to my guns, I earned her respect which was infinitely more attractive.  

Highlighting the areas people outperform you makes them value your opinion more

A huge rookie mistake people make is thinking they have to be the top dog in every interaction.  So while they may give others compliments, they’re always careful to make sure no one surpasses their status.

So if they tell someone they are really smart, they’re ready to prove their own intelligence in the next story.  They only compliment others on they style when they are dressed to the 9’s.  And they give no compliments in areas they don’t feel superior.

The most charismatic people are completely comfortable elevating others far above themselves.  In fact, they take every genuine opportunity to do so.  They publicly call out people for being smarter, harder working, and more successful.

Not only do the people they compliment appreciate the praise.  Everyone in the room realizes the complimenter is non-needy.  They don’t need to be proven cool.  They are beyond cool.  Take this with a huge grain of salt because, yes, highlighting other people strengths can make them value your opinion…

… but you MUST earn respect before following Dale Carnegie’s advice to “be interesting by being interested”

I’ll never forget the most impactful compliment I ever got.  I was sitting in a dorm room during a trip to England.  I had met my buddies who were studying abroad there.  And a friend of a friend I’d met two days before said this:

“You’re a philosophy major?  That’s so cool man.  Are you going to be a writer?”

That was it.  Most memorable compliment of my life.  Simple.  Not even very specific.

But 7 years later I remember the way it made me feel.  The way I glowed.  And it wasn’t because the compliment was so impressive (clearly it was rather plain).  It was because I respected the guy who said it.

You see, prior to giving me that compliment, Dustin had spent the previous half day being the coolest dude I’d ever met.  I’d watched him charm waitstaff, dorm reception, and every friend he’d been introduced to.  He was a ball of positive energy and I respected his opinion immensely.

So when he complimented me it meant the world.

I’ve received that same compliment from other people upon meeting them.  I’ve had people ask me in depth questions about my philosophy background and my writing.  And while I appreciate the attention, I don’t walk away feeling special  Why?

Because before someone has earned your respect, it is impossible for them to give you a compliment that really sticks.  Yet so many people try to ingratiate themselves immediately.  So many books recommend compliments as icebreakers.  Dale Carnegie recommends being “interested in other people” without any further caveat.

I’m not against compliments early in conversation or being interested in other people.  But it is worth noting that the most charismatic thing you can do is build up respect and THEN turn the focus onto someone else.  That’s when your compliments and attention will have the most charismatic impact.

Don’t hesitate to reveal weaknesses

“In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times” – Buddy Kane

Buddy Kane from American Beauty is a narcissistic jerk.  And his advice on success is complete garbage.

But we hear it again and again.  CEO’s are told not to let on when things are going bad.  The advice to people in normal conversations is not to let on when you are lost in conversation or nervous before a speech.  “Fake is until you make it,”  they’re told.

“Fake it til you make it” works fine.  But what also works fine is feeling lost or nervous and being at peace with that.

So you can enter a conversation saying, “So….I don’t know anyone in this room.  Can I hang with you guys?”  You can start a speech, saying, “This is the most people I’ve ever spoken to.  I just got done hyperventilating backstage and now I’m ready to go.”  You can tell people with whom you’re networking that your company is having trouble acquiring users.

When you offer information that isn’t in your immediate interest, you instantly build trust.  Anything you say after that will hold more weight.  Paradoxically, you’ve displayed strength in having the courage to reveal a flaw.

Photo source: Nikos Koutoulas

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