What is Charisma?

See also:Tact and Diplomacy

It is common for people to struggle with a definition of ‘charisma’ in relation to communication and the social sciences.

Ultimately charisma is the result of excellent communication and interpersonal skills, as these skills can be learned and developed - so developing your charisma is possible.


How to be Charismatic

Becoming charismatic involves paying careful attention to how you interact with other people; the traits that make up charisma are positive and appealing to others. 

The charismatic person uses their skills to get people on their side, perhaps from a professional, ideological or social point of view. For these reasons charisma is often linked to leadership skills - being charismatic can be an important trait of a successful leader.

When asked to think about a charismatic person most people think about a public figure, like a politician, celebrity or successful leader. These people are successful, due often to their charisma, but there are also many ‘ordinary’ people who possess a charismatic personality.  The popular child at school, the staff in the restaurant who make the most tips, the popular person in the office who is friends with everybody.

Some people are more charismatic than others - we can recognise charisma but what makes it? This page explores some of the traits of the charismatic person and how such traits may be developed.

Being Charismatic Means:

Being Confident

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.

Showing Optimism

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 'bubbly'.  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.

Being an Emotional Player

The ability to appear confident and/or optimistic if you are not requires a certain amount of ‘acting’.

Although 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.

See our page: Emotional Intelligence.

Being Interesting and Interested

Charismatic people are both interesting, others want to listen to what they have to say, and interested, they want to listen to what others have to say.

Charismatic people 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 in others.  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.   The charismatic person can 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.

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.

Demonstrating Intelligence

As charismatic people want to be able to communicate effectively with others they are usually good at initiating conversations.  They tend to be intelligent, with an up-to-date knowledge on current affairs and rounded general knowledge.  This makes small talk, the sometimes awkward beginnings of conversations, easier.

Charismatic people often have expert knowledge in some area – they are able to explain complex topics in such a way that their audience understands, adapting their explanations according to the abilities, view point and expertise of those they are addressing.  Expert knowledge also inspires the confidence and belief of others in the abilities of charismatic people.

See our Study Skills section for ideas and advice on how to learn more effectively.

Being Assertive

The power of charisma is the ability to make people want what you want or unite in a common cause.

This ability can be used for both good and bad causes, charismatic leaders may be able to influence and encourage their followers, to motivate people to do what they want.  A charismatic confidence trickster may be able to use their skills to gain the trust and respect of their victims before ultimately extorting money or other valuables.

Charismatic people are assertive but usually in subtle ways, they can persuade through their words, encourage with their optimism and confidence and be assertive by utilising their understanding of emotions, both theirs and those of other people.

See our pages: Assertiveness and Why People are not Assertive for more on being assertive.

Maintaining Attention to Detail

Charisma is all about attention to detail and the detail of how interpersonal interaction takes place. 

Being charismatic involves communicating dynamically, with passion and enthusiasm whilst displaying positive body language.  It involves thinking positively, having optimism and self-confidence, it’s 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, however charismatic you are - you can't please all of the people all of the time.

Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence

Further Reading from Skills You Need

Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence

Learn more about emotional intelligence and how to effectively manage personal relationships at home, at work and socially.

Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their interpersonal skills and are full of easy-to-follow, practical information.