Social skills have always posed a puzzle for me. While I’m not exactly a shut-in, a lot of setbacks in my life, or so I’m told, can be traced back to my lack of social skills. Whether it’s a job interview that didn’t go well, or a sale that failed to happened, I’m often left asking why, and people tell me that I just need the gift of gab or the ability to sell ice to eskimos, or whatever that means. Even the smallest social situations I’ve always been envious of people who could hold a room with their stories or who never have to deal with those awkward moments of dead air. Thanks to what I’ve learned in Olivia Fox Cabane’s The Charisma Myth, I don’t have to.
We think Charisma is a natural gift because when someone does it well, we experience the results in our unconscious emotional mind. It turns out that charisma, the ability to read people and react appropriately, can be learned just like programming or playing the guitar.
Developing your charisma involves training your brain to control your body language. We have known for a long time that social skills depend on body language, but only recently have we found that all those ticks and micro-expressions on our outside depends a lot on how we treat our insides. There’s a lot of talk in the book about mindfulness and meditation. Naturally, these practices will increase your confidence, but this is different from a lot of confidence techniques that I’ve heard of in the past.
Instead of just focusing on your strengths and good qualities, the mindful approach to charisma requires that you take into account all aspects of your being, even ones that you don’t like. The way I have interpreted this is that while you may not be the best in the world at anything, maybe the best person in the room to do many other things. This especially works for me if I’m the only person in the room.
A technique I was able to use immediately was a habit of waiting two seconds before responding to anybody. If you are in a conversation and someone is talking to you, just say mississippi in your head twice before giving a response. Another technique I liked was diving into sensation. If you focus on the sensations in your extremities, you can take your focus away from your current anxieties and back to reading the current social situation.
Doing was like opening up a third eye for me. Through most of my life, I have been so focused on crafting the right response to whatever I was listening to that I was just not listening at all. For instance, if I was in one of my old tech support jobs, I might try and act contrite if the customer was mad at me. According to the charisma myth, this is not only detrimental to the control of your body language, but It can even escalate things by telegraphing to your conversation partner that they are hurting you and that they are wrong. If you have a negative expression crawl across your face at any point, people don’t think it’s you, they think it’s them.
Reading this book has made me much more comfortable in my own skin. I am much better at small talk. Even though I don’t have a script for most social situations, I at least have a stance I can take so I can observe the situation and not make a fool of myself. I still wouldn’t call myself an expert. I don’t have a daily meditation ritual, and my ability can be limited by my mood and how much sleep I’ve had. At least now I have a direction to go if I want to improve.
It sounds like magic, but it’s not. The Charisma Myth debunked a lot of ideas that I had about active listening and positive thinking. If you go the book’s website there are a few exercises you can try out. You can get better results from the actual book, but try it out and tell me know how things work out.