Eventually, she began to think of social interaction as the product of three categories of skills: technical, external, and internal. Technical skills are raw brainpower. They include the ability to follow complex directions or derive solutions to challenging problems. Most of the engineers she works with rate themselves highly in these areas. They’re also, she says, the least important when it comes to developing a charismatic personality.
External skills are more important, albeit at a surface level. They’re the things we associate with successful salespeople: a welcoming smile, a sympathetic nod of the head, a warm handshake. These actions are part of what we call charisma—but only if they feel genuine. And that’s the problem, at least for people for whom these behaviors don’t come naturally. We can sense a strained expression or faked interest, and neither appeals. Olivia cites a Stanford University study in which researchers scanned the brains of subjects shown pictures of people trying to hide their real feelings. The observers’ brains reacted as if a threat were present.
The solution to this conundrum—that external skills are important to charisma, but faking them can backfire—rests with internal skills. These have to do with understanding what is happening inside your head, and knowing how to handle it. Internal skills include the ability to sit with discomfort, to be mindful of the feelings that arise in a given situation—and to have enough self-compassion not to be overrun by those feelings. These are the skills that allow you to bypass the feelings of anxiety, fear, and doubt that rise in high-pressure scenarios. And while an internal state can’t be faked, it can be manipulated. Done right, the results of that process can be transformative.
The placebo effect might be thought of as such a manipulation: Create an internal feeling of having received treatment, say by administering a sugar pill that looks like a real drug, and your body may act as if the treatment were real. Olivia believes charisma can work in much the same way: imagine a situation in which you would be warm, generous, and confident—like playing with a puppy—and your internal tinkering will lead to real changes in your external behaviors.
This, in a nutshell, is Olivia’s recipe for instant charisma. “Charismatic behaviors must originate in your mind,” she wrote in the The Charisma Myth, which was published in 2012. “What your mind believes, your body manifests.”
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