The Charm Hacker
March 30, 2014 12:21 PM   Subscribe

The article takes forever to get to the point:
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.”
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:41 PM on March 30 [13 favorites]

Olivia smiled at the pair, who seem relieved to be saved from the game they had created.

Clearly, giving a puppy to the Standford duo, with their "I will introduce myself by being insulting" party game, was the only way to make them seem charming. Some people are most charming when they are not talking and holding a puppy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:43 PM on March 30 [13 favorites]

Looks like she stumbled on to two already-discovered insights:

1) Giving oneself over to a "higher power" (God, etc.) or "fate" can help to relieve anxiety and worry - thus freeing up a person to more closely approximate "flow".

2) Several of the working principles of cognitive behavior therapy, applied to everyday situations. It turns out that the cognitive distortions identified by cognitive therapy researchers are experienced by everyone. Thus, even if one is not depressed, anxious, etc. etc. one can profit by using those techniques to make one's life more fulfilling, and less fearful. Recommended prior:David Burns masterpiece: Feeling Good
posted by Vibrissae at 12:51 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]

"You might remember me from such self-help videos as Get Confident, Stupid!"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:16 PM on March 30 [22 favorites]


Olivia reached down to scoop up a small black-and-tan puppy—a foster dog she was watching—that had been wandering around without anyone noticing. She handed the burrito-sized animal to the Stanford duo, who took turns holding it while other guests cooed. The conversation shifted to dog people versus cat people. Olivia smiled at the pair, who seem relieved to be saved from the game they had created. The party rolled on.


“Not patronizing or condescending,” Olivia said, firmly.

“Dammit.” Aaron sighed. “I need a puppy.”

“Borrow mine.”


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.


After two years of tutoring in techniques like these, Aaron is still working with Olivia. Back in the living room, he reflected on Olivia’s advice for helping him communicate with more warmth. “Thinking of puppies while I talk to people helps a lot,” he said.

“Of course it does,” she said patiently. “The satisfaction we get from animal connections is different than the one we get from humans. We register it differently. Thinking about puppies translates to the voice, triggers your brain’s emotional center.”

“Eventually,” she added, “we both know you are going to need your own dog.”

=end of excerpts=

People, it's puppies all the way down. Charisma is puppies.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:34 PM on March 30 [48 favorites]

mmmmmmmm....animal-sized burrito.....
posted by nevercalm at 1:36 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]

Lol this is even worse than PUA school!
posted by zscore at 1:40 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]

Time was at a party like that you'd just do a few lines. Now it's puppies.
posted by angerbot at 2:09 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]

even worse than PUA school

Helping people learn to regulate their internal anxieties so as to be more successful socially and in business seems pretty different from focusing on manipulating insecure women into sex, I think.
posted by thelonius at 2:16 PM on March 30 [22 favorites]

"The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made." -Jean Giraudoux
posted by adipocere at 2:18 PM on March 30 [16 favorites]

More useful (though ethically questionable) would be the ability to strip it away from (bad) people.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:20 PM on March 30 [4 favorites]

Her clients do sound ghastly, though
posted by thelonius at 2:21 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]

One of the things that's interesting to me is how much of our social rituals are built around denying that we are uncomfortable and working to create the air of graceful ease. Like it would be so much easier to be able to say, "Sorry, I'm uncomfortable meeting new people" when doing introductions in a group, but of course, that lacks the grace of pretending you are just thrilled and delighted and outgoing and ready to be there. It's all about denying vulnerability, even when you're the one running the seminar, which was a little bit I enjoyed.

When you think about it, we're still monkeys on the savannah trying to show our teeth and go "WHOA NOT TO BE MESSED WITH I AM A CONFIDENT OUTGOING ALPHA AND WILL FIGHT YOU OR A LION IF NEED BE" even if we have iPads.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:26 PM on March 30 [7 favorites]

Lol this is even worse than PUA school!

I understand the sentiment that charisma can't, or shouldn't be taught. You either have it or you don't. But that's really just saying you either were fortunate enough to have an upbringing that instilled you with the right combination of confidence and empathy to be charismatic (plus some boost from genetic factors such as height and facial symmetry), or should resign yourself to being disliked.

Why shouldn't people who missed out on these skills be allowed to catch up? And if her clients sound awful in the article, that's sort of supporting the thesis.
posted by justkevin at 2:36 PM on March 30 [18 favorites]

Charisma is puppies.

posted by crush-onastick at 2:44 PM on March 30

They call her...The Charisma Carpenter.
posted by Iridic at 2:49 PM on March 30 [27 favorites]

So.... what I am gathering is that we could render down puppies for their confidence-enhancing elements and people could buy Confidex by prescription. We will make billions! *thunder clap* Bwahahahahaha!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:50 PM on March 30 [3 favorites]

Maybe I am being a little bit hard on everyone. I'm just worried about what they're going to do with their newfound powers of manipulation!
posted by zscore at 2:51 PM on March 30

Why shouldn't people who missed out on these skills be allowed to catch up?

Agreed. I was not quite as awkward as Olivia in school, but I was very awkward and insecure and uncertain how to connect. I still am.

Except in special situations - such as when I have a job to do, or some degree of ownership, or other elements I have not identified. Then suddenly the confident, warm, poised me pops out. I want to be like that ALL THE TIME.

Or at least I want to be more like that, more often.

Yes, I bought the kindle book. No, I'm not feeling defensive.
posted by bunderful at 3:18 PM on March 30 [8 favorites]

Look, here's the secret.

It's really simple, and it will get you through most situations not requiring specific technical knowledge.

Ask yourself, "What would a smart, competent, confident person do right now?"

Then do that.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:33 PM on March 30 [15 favorites]

Fellow Mefites: What are the best AskMeta threads on this topic, and the overall best books?

I've got Carnegie loaded up and ready to go; what else? Is Olivia's book any good?
posted by pmv at 3:40 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]

You know, it's easy to look at someone like this and just be like, oh, this is an asshole, but while there are exceptions, I think there are a lot of assholes in the world who would really prefer not to be assholes, and why shouldn't they be able to get some help, too? Some of this really resonates with me--my tolerance for discomfort is not very high at all, and, I mean, the therapy that I've had was largely exactly that thing about needing to be able to deal with feelings in the moment. But I guess I'm not sold on the idea that I can just imagine feeling okay and thereby be okay. I can't just do what a confident person would do, because in the moment, I haven't the faintest clue what someone who wasn't a total moron in social situations would actually do. But I think of everything, the CBT stuff has helped most. I still re-read Feeling Good every couple months.
posted by Sequence at 3:42 PM on March 30 [11 favorites]

So much bouncing around in that article (I couldn't finish it) that I might have missed something, but her life story takes a quite quick jump from years of social hell at school to freelancing for Forbes at 21. Some of that back story might be crafted to give her teachings more impact (she was in public relations for awhile, afterall).
posted by TimTypeZed at 4:28 PM on March 30

In all seriousness, I got a lot more charismatic (so I have been told) when I stopped worrying about the right social thing to do, and just started treating people with the kindness I naturally feel most of the time (but had suppressed when younger because kids often take advantage of niceness.)

The only problem is meeting people I actually don't feel that way about for some reason. So I'm not really popular with people who aren't popular with me. Somehow I feel like that's okay.
posted by davejay at 5:38 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]

It's really simple, and it will get you through most situations not requiring specific technical knowledge.

Ask yourself, "What would a smart, competent, confident person do right now?"

Then do that.

Four simple words: "What would Batman do?"
posted by Roentgen at 5:41 PM on March 30 [1 favorite]

More like four simple words: What Would Spider-Man Do?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:17 PM on March 30

Batman doesn't stand around trying to figure out what Batman would do.

Or maybe he does? Maybe that's his secret? :)
posted by anonymisc at 6:43 PM on March 30

And last May she was appointed the director of innovative leadership at StartX, a nonprofit set up to accelerate the development of Stanford’s top entrepreneurs.

Stanford entrepreneurs = target population of a non-profit?

Does not compute.
posted by idealist at 6:55 PM on March 30

There is more than one type of charisma. Anyone who's dealt with salesmen and pre-sales engineers in high-tech knows this. The salesman will be the kind of cool cat you're always glad to see, calm and confident, and she knows as much about your kids as their own aunts, and this is because she's genuinely interested in them - it's like a nerd talking about computer components or a motorhead talking about cars. Salesmen (and politicians) at the top of their game set aside this massive head-space for people and how they relate to other people.

Pre-sales engineer, he's vaguely aware you may know other people besides him. But when he starts talking, what he says makes so... much... sense... you know you'll be smarter just by taking whatever advice he has to give!

The sales-goon is a vicious weasel, and the pre-sales engineer is an idiot who's locking you into a doomed platform. You won't know it until you're fired for buying that shit.

You were decked by a one-two punch of different charismas that got you off your game.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:49 PM on March 30 [4 favorites]

'"You and Rosemary are the politest people I've ever known, but she
means this."

"My politeness is a trick of the heart."'

- F. Scott Fitzgerald, 'Tender is the Night'
posted by sevensixfive at 9:49 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]

I wanted the article to be better than it was or to teach me something new but this is pop science and pop reporting - someone helped themselves, then helped others with the tools they learned. That's fine & good but teaching confidence is not the providence of a Charisma Coach alone, and teaching social skills to Silicon Valley techs does not a guru make.

I enjoyed the book "Click" much better as it was about how to connect with others - how to listen to them and to join them in their world.

As for the poster above who felt a little unsettled about power of charisma, don't worry, it's like The Force - it only has a strong influence on a weak mind. It's an empty power. At every step just ask yourself Do I want to do this? What am I getting in return for my action? Then poof - the power of false charisma is gone!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:59 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]

Dump stat.
posted by homunculus at 10:04 PM on March 30 [5 favorites]

There is more than one type of charisma.

She discusses this in the book. She talks about 4 types of charisma styles and in what situations its best to use each one.

"Focus Charisma: Presence and Confidence - Focus charisma is primarily based on a perception of presence. It gives people the feeling that you are fully present with them, listening to them and absorbing what they say. Focus charisma makes people feel heard, listened to, and understood.

Visionary Charisma: Belief and Confidence - Visionary charisma makes others feel inspired; it makes us believe. It can be remarkably effective even though it won’t necessarily make people like you.

Kindness Charisma: Warmth and Confidence - Kindness charisma is primarily based on warmth. It connects with people’s hearts, and makes them feel welcomed, cherished, embraced, and, most of all, completely accepted.

Authority Charisma: Status and Confidence - Authority charisma is primarily based on a perception of power: the belief that this person has the power to affect our world. Those who possess authority charisma are not necessarily likable."
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:52 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]

Thanks St. Peepsburg - Click looks really interesting.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 1:10 AM on March 31

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