What is Charisma?

See also:Tact and Diplomacy

Charisma is the quality of being able to attract, charm and influence those around you. It is usually easy to identify when someone is charismatic. It is, however, often much harder to say exactly what skills or qualities those people have that other, less charismatic, people lack.

To make things more complicated, there are different types of charismatic people. Some may be quieter, perhaps relying more on their personal charm than their words to influence others. Others are passionate communicators, sweeping everyone along with their enthusiasm.

Ultimately, charisma is the result of excellent communication and interpersonal skills. It is therefore possible to develop and improve your charisma.

This page explains more about the skills that make up charisma.

Defining Charisma

Researchers at the University of Toronto carried out a large-scale study into charisma, involving over 1,000 people. They found that charisma consists of a mixture of what they called ‘affability’ and ‘influence’.

  • Influence was defined as leadership ability and strength of ‘presence’.

  • Affability was defined as being approachable and pleasant.

It turns out to be possible to quantify charisma (see box). It also seems that self-rated charisma levels are surprisingly accurate when compared with ratings by other people.

Quantifying Charisma

Rate yourself on a scale of one to five (where five is high) against these six statements:

I am someone who…

  1. …has a presence in a room
  2. …has the ability to influence people
  3. …knows how to lead a group
  4. …makes people feel comfortable
  5. …smiles at people often
  6. …can get along with anyone

Divide the total score by six to get a charisma value. Anything over 3.7 is considered ‘higher than average’.

Source: Tskhay, K. O., Zhu, R., Zou, C. & Rule, N. O. (2018). Charisma in everyday life: Conceptualization and validation of the General Charisma Inventory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114(1), 131–152.

There are a number of skills that make up influence and affability. Each of these can be developed, given time and effort.

Developing Influence

The statements used to assess charisma show that influence generally has three main parts:

  • presence,
  • ability to influence, and
  • ability to lead.

Presence is perhaps the most difficult to define and pin down. However, those with presence can generally be said to be confident and believe in themselves, and also be optimistic and resilient in the face of setbacks.

  • Charismatic people are confident people – or at least have the ability to appear confident.

    Being confident to communicate in a variety of situations, one-to-one, in groups and in front of audiences is a skill that many people struggle with. A charismatic person can not only appear confident in communication, but they can also help others feel confidence too, thus aiding and enhancing the communication process. Charismatic people are confident in a positive way, without being boastful or egotistical.

    See our pages: Building Confidence and Improving Self-Esteem for more information.
  • As with confidence, charismatic people are, or have the ability to appear, optimistic.

    This means they try to see the best in other people, situations and events. They usually remain cheerful and bounce back from setbacks, because they have good resilience. Charismatic people have the capability to encourage others to see things as they do, thus they can enthuse and enable others to feel more optimistic.

    Positive thinking and optimism can be powerful forces for successful negotiation and problem-solving.

  • Charismatic people also have very good persuasion and influencing skills. They can often make people want what they want and unite them in a common cause.

    This ability can be used for both good and bad. Charismatic leaders may be able to influence and encourage their followers to do things that might even seem impossible. They can motivate people to do hard jobs. A charismatic confidence trickster, however, may be able to use their skills to gain the trust and respect of their victims before ultimately extorting money or other valuables.

    There is more about influence in our pages on Persuasion and Influence, including Developing Persuasion Skills.
  • The final characteristic classified as part of ‘influence’ is that charismatic people often have very good leadership skills.

    They may be seen as ‘natural leaders’, even though they have often spent years honing their skills to make leadership seem effortless. They are able to use a variety of leadership styles to suit the circumstances, and those that they are leading. They are also usually very good at developing and then communicating a compelling vision; their general communication skills are often extremely strong.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

Developing Affability

The main areas of affability are the ability to get on with people, smiling often—and genuinely—and being able to make people feel comfortable. Perhaps the most important element of this is good emotional intelligence.

Our eBook Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence will teach you more about emotional intelligence and how to effectively manage personal relationships at home, at work and socially.

The ability to appear confident and/or optimistic if you are not requires a certain amount of ‘acting’. It requires you to be in command of your emotions.

  • You also need to be able to harness both your own and others’ emotions positively to achieve what you want.

    Charismatic people are very good at showing their true emotions when this works to their best advantage. They are usually also good at masking or acting in a way that makes others believe what they see. The analogy of a swimming swan is useful in this example, calm and serene on the surface but with a lot of hidden activity out of view to the casual observer.

  • Charismatic people are interesting: others want to listen to what they have to say.

    This is partly because they have interesting things to say—such as a compelling vision—and partly the way that they communicate.

    They are often good storytellers, with an engaging manner when speaking and explaining. They are able to communicate their message clearly and concisely, being serious and injecting humour where appropriate to keep their audience attentive and focused. When they are in one-on-one or small group situations, charismatic people will use open, relaxed, body language including lots of eye contact. They will watch for feedback from their audience and clarify their position accordingly. When in larger groups or making a presentation to others, body language will be more exaggerated in an attempt to include everybody.

    Our pages: Non-Verbal Communication | Personal Presentation | Active Listening and Effective Speaking cover many of these points in more detail.
  • Charismatic people are also interested: they genuinely want to listen to what others have to say.

    They are likely to ask open questions to help them understand the views, opinions and feelings of others and, because of their ability to make others feel at ease, will often get honest and heartfelt answers. Charismatic people tend to be empathetic and considerate towards others, remembering details from previous conversations and therefore gaining respect and trust.

    See our pages: Questioning and What is Empathy? for more information.
  • Charismatic people are good at building rapport with others

    A sincere smile, maintaining eye contact, being polite and courteous is a very effective way of getting people on your side. People are much more likely to do things for you if they are treated well and you are nice to them.

    See our pages: How to be Polite and Building Rapport for more.

A Final Thought

Being charismatic involves communicating dynamically, with passion and enthusiasm whilst displaying positive body language. It involves thinking positively, having optimism and self-confidence, and also being persuasive and building the respect and trust of others.

We can all learn to be more charismatic by developing our interpersonal skills through understanding and practice. Remember, though, that however charismatic you are, you still will not be able to please all of the people all of the time—and nor should you try.