Tim Ferriss: How to Develop “Reality Distortion Field” Charisma

Here is an article written by Jessica Stillman about Tim Ferris for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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The blog of best-selling author Tim Ferriss features posts offering to teach an eclectic variety of skills — how to make money, lose weight, learn a language and travel the world — but this one features the most off-beat how-to yet. The instructional piece focuses on the persuasive abilities of super-charmers like Bill Clinton and Steve Jobs, people who have “a Reality Distortion Field” (RDF)—an aura of charisma, confidence, and persuasion, in which people report it almost impossible to avoid surrendering to the man and following his will when interacting face-to-face.”

While Clinton-style charisma is usually thought of as a fixed and innate trait, Ferriss argues that is actually possible to increase yours by implementing these three easy steps:

Practice Brief Eye Contact With Strangers. While you walk down the sidewalk (during daylight hours!) look at the eyes of every person walking towards you long enough to see their eye color. Less than a second. Then look away. This is the best technique I know for building solid eye contact skills quickly. In my experience, if the eye contact is brief enough, no one minds at all, and you get tons of practice in. You can also practice longer eye contact with waiters, salesclerks, cashiers, and other paid service staff, so long as you do it respectfully and in a friendly way. In all cases, keep a neutral facial expression and soft gaze. You don’t want anyone to think you’re trying to stare them down, rob them, or get them into the sack.

Learn the Art of Personal Space. You’ve probably experienced bosses or strangers “get up in your face,” and it feels very unpleasant. Bill Clinton and others with RDFs are experts at getting close to you while making you feel totally safe and comfortable. How do they do it? They have mastered the subtle art of personal space. Our sense of personal space is not a pure function of physical proximity; many other psychological factors influence it. In general, your sense of physical proximity with someone increases when they are: making direct eye contact with you; facing you directly; touching you; raising their voice; talking about you.  If you learn to modulate these five factors, you can make your conversation partners feel safe and comfortable while at the same time feeling close and intimate with you.

Practice Being Present. Have you ever felt someone was making eye contact with you, but wasn’t taking in a thing you were saying? For one week, whenever you talk with someone, practice noticing whenever your mind drifting—to the laundry, your bills, you co-worker’s snide comment today. Then, when you notice this inevitable mental drifting, bring your attention back to whomever you’re talking with at the moment. They will truly appreciate it.

Should Ferriss’s formula prove effective, I imagine it would come in pretty handy for dating as well as sales. But what do you think, is this a plan that ends in charisma or creepiness? I can imagine that the “practicing eye contact” step, at least, could cause some pretty uncomfortable encounters, especially for those with more limited natural charm than Ferriss. If you’re intrigued, you can read much more about charisma in the complete post.

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Jessica Stillman is an alumna of the BNET editorial intern program, which taught her everything she knows about blogging. She now lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.

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