What are those things that make us attractive to others?  What makes us charismatic? And most importantly, how can we use those things to our advantage for networking or relationship building? Attraction is one of the basics of finding a romantic partner.  But, we’re also attracted to working with certain people or attracted to certain friendships.


What about Charisma? Charisma is hard to define but you know it when you see it.  Researchers at MIT have said that connecting with people is what generates charisma. But, what does that mean?

Achim Nowak, author of the book, “Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within,” defines charisma as the “inside” and that “je ne sais quoi” that enables certain people to draw you in. “When we talk about charisma, it’s the quality people who light up the stage have. They’re like an energy magnet—and we want to engage.”

What Draws Us In?

If we accept that charismatic people are like an energy magnet, pulling us in because we want to engage, the question becomes, what is it that specifically draws us in.  Turns out there is some psychology to this attraction.

1. A Sense of Humor

People like to laugh. Both men and women seem to prefer someone with a good sense of humor but recent studies  have shown that men are not quite as attracted to funny women. The studies suggest that the phrase “good sense of humor” is used differently between the sexes.  Men highlighted the importance of their partners’ receptivity to their own humor, whereas women valued humor production and receptivity equally.

In another study, French researcher Nicolas Guéguen instructed male participants in a bar to either tell or not tell a funny joke to their friends as a woman sat at a nearby table. The men who told jokes were three times more likely to get that woman’s number than those who did not. Dr. Gil Greengross, in an article on Psychology Today, explained this by the fact that funny people are considered to be more social and more intelligent. 

2. Hanging Out in a Group: The Cheerleader Effect

A 2014 study from the University of California at San Diego found that people looked better when they were in a group. It’s called the Cheerleader Effect. Our brains take in the faces of a collective group of people resulting in each face looking more average or more attractive as a result.What happens is that the individual faces will seem more attractive when presented in a group because they will appear more similar to the average group face, which is more attractive than group members’ individual faces.

3. Meaningful Conversations 

In a 1997 study, State University of New York psychologist Arthur Aron separated two groups of people and paired them off, giving each duo 45 minutes to answer a set of questions.One question set was small talk, and the other was increasingly probing.  The people who asked deeper questions felt more connected than those in the other group.

4. Power

People are attracted to power. Physical attractiveness is most commonly presumed to be something that influences people’s feelings, perceptions, and behaviors. A 2014 study showed that subordinates rated their leaders as significantly more physically attractive than comparably familiar people outside the company. Therefore, a company’s CEO will seem more attractive to employees than to people outside the company, presumably because of the power effect.

5. People Who Smile

Researchers in Switzerland examined the relationship between attractiveness and smiling. They found that the stronger the smile, the more attractive a face looked.  They found that a happy facial expression compensated for unattractiveness. Faces play an important role in human social interactions. From a face we can also judge what mood a person is in. Such first impressions facilitate the flow of communication and co-operation.

The more you talk, the more you get to know a person and you may end up liking them even more.

6. The Right Body Language

You can also use body language to increase your attractiveness in social setting. For example:

Open Torso:  Research has shown that keeping your torso, chest and abdomen open to the world is best way to show availability. Crossed arms, clutching a wine glass in front of your stomach, checking a phone in front of your chest or hugging a purse to your center are all ways we close our body language and seem unapproachable. Studies have shown that we actually close our body language when we are feeling mentally closed off.

Hands: Studies have found that when we can’t see people’s hands we have trouble trusting them. When you put your hands in your pockets, tuck them under the table or hide them behind a coat, you’re attractiveness decreases because people can’t open up to you.

7. Pets

In a University of Michigan experiment, women read vignettes about men. Whenever the story featured a person who owned a dog, women rated that person as a more suitable partner in the long-term. The researchers concluded that owning a pet indicated that you’re nurturing and capable of making long-term commitments.

So, you’ve drawn them in.  Now What?

Honing Skills after You’ve Drawn Them In

Several years ago, I watched then Secretary of State, Colin Powell, enter a room and walk onto the stage for a brief speech.  I thought to myself, “That’s a man with charisma” and he hadn’t even spoken a word.

In 2008, MIT researchers conducted a study on charisma. They set up a competition to measure it. The study involved five executives and they wired these five executives at a cocktail party with devices called “sociometers” that monitored the tone of their voice as well as their gestures.  They even measured how close they were standing to others. The gadget tracked patterns of speech and bodily movement, although it doesn’t record any word of what’s being said.

Five days later, those same executives presented business plans to a panel of judges in the contest. The researchers did not read or listen to their business plans but they accurately predicted which executive would win, based solely on their behavior at the party. They measured their “social signals”.

In other words, it isn’t what you say but how you act and how you say it. They found that people who incorporate unconscious gestures and expressions that are associated with charisma were more successful in business. These social cues, called “Honest signals”, are powerful indicators of success.  Honest signals are unique and impact the person you’re talking to by the use of the nonverbal cues we use to fine-tune our communication. In other words, the more happy and upbeat you are, the more upbeat your conversation partner becomes. Your attitude, in essence, rubs off on others.

Mirroring Behavior

In the same study, the most successful executives were more energetic, they talked more, and they listened more. They subtly mirrored the behavior of those they spoke with. They tried to sync up with by tilting their head the same way or imitating the stance of the person they were talking to. By doing this, they were able to draw people out enabling them to have a more engaging conversation and experience.

Being Authentic

Achim Nowak also believes that the two biggest liabilities when it comes to unleashing charisma are not being curious about the person you’re speaking to—and not sharing enough about yourself.  He states that, “A lot of people will play journalist and not put themselves out there,” says Nowak, noting that they’re more comfortable asking the questions. “But the best connections happen when I am curious about the other person.”

So when it comes down to charisma, authenticity rules.

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