The Charisma Myth: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: March 29th, 2012 by bobmorris

The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism
Olivia Fox Cabane
Portfolio/The Penguin Group (2012)

Here is a generous provision of “practical, immediately applicable tools with measurable results”

Whatever you call it (some call it a “sixth sense”), most of us realize when we are in the presence of people who are “special.” They attract us and we feel comforted rather than threatened by them. It’s as if we had entered a gravitation field and there is this almost electrical interaction. (Some call it “chemistry” or “instant rapport.”) The best word I can think of to describe it is “magnetic.” I cannot explain how and why it happens…but Olivia Fox Cabane can, and indeed has explained it in this book.

At the outset, I think it necessary to make a distinction between authentic and inauthentic charisma while conceding that both can be magnetic.  Those who possess authentic charisma cherish mutual respect and trust. They possess emotional intelligence (e.g. empathy) as well as decency and kindness that almost glow. They radiate integrity. That is the effect that Mohandas Gandhi had on people when in his presence.

Those who exemplify what I characterize as inauthentic charisma are by nature or intent manipulative, predatory, self-serving, devious, and hypocritical. They will say or do whatever serves their purposes.  They earn trust only to create opportunities. Appropriately, “con artists” are so-named because of their ability to gain — so that they can then exploit — another person’s confidence. They almost sparkle when ingratiating themselves. At least early in Adolph Hitler’s political career, people whose support he attempted to recruit found him “charming.” Later when he began to deliver speeches to vast audiences, he was widely described as “inspiring,” even “messianic.”

As Olivia Fox Cabane explains, people are not born charismatic, “innately magnetic from birth.” Rather, “charisma is the result of specific nonverbal behaviors, not an inherent or magical personal quality.” In fact, almost anyone can master “practical, immediately applicable tools…in a methodical, systematic way, with practical exercises immediately useful in the real world.” More specifically, she explains

o  How to develop and enhance one’s charisma with three behaviors: presence, power, and warmth
o  How and why “charisma begins in the mind”
o  How to counteract charisma-impairing physical discomfort
o  How to handle skillfully almost any difficult situation
o  How to create charismatic mental states
o  How to determine which charisma style (i.e. focus, visionary, kindness, or authority) is most appropriate to one’s character, the given goals to achieve, and one’s current and imminent situations)
o  How to make a great first impression
o  How to listen with charisma
o  What “emotional contagion” is and how to manage it effectively
o  How to deal effectively with difficult people
o  How to deliver constructive criticism
o  How to make a public presentation of almost anything with charisma
o  How to respond effectively to a crisis
o  The defining characteristics of “the charismatic life”

Cabane assumes that the information, insights, and advice that she provides in this book – the behaviors that project presence, power, and warmth as well as an entire toolkit to master those behaviors — will be used to serve purposes and achieve objectives that are not only legal but ethical and moral, that are life-affirming, that will help to make a positive difference in a world that so often seems hostage to negativity. This book will help authentic people to be significantly more effective in all areas of their life.  Yes, the book will also help at least some inauthentic people to become more effective – at least for a while — and perhaps one day Olivia Fox Cabane will write a book in which she explains how to recognize them, avoid them, and protect ourselves and others from them.

For now, let’s all be grateful for what she shares in this book. Those who read it will increase their understanding of the art and a science of enriching their relationships with others. That is indeed an admirable goal. Helping her readers to achieve it is a precious gift.

Bonus: To check out a video during which Olivia discusses some of the core concepts in her book, please click here.

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