Real charisma isn't about being the loudest or brightest person in the room. Real charisma is based on our ability to pay attention to other people. When you are with someone who is truly charismatic, you often feel like you're the only other person in the room! It's a great feeling.
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It is a behavioral science fact that human beings are hard-wired to think about something other than themselves for a maximum of 15 seconds. That's about the time it takes to read one of those generic "I would like to add you to my network" notes. This note is immediately followed by the thought, "What do they want?"
For a moment, consider how low the bar is actually set in terms of how we perceive these messages.
We would like to raise that bar.
In our skill training, I would like to believe that we help people become more caring, more curious, and more supportive of others. We find these characteristics tend to lead to business success that is not only sustainable, but also more pleasurable.
Charisma Cannot be Faked
In advance, the personal story I'm about to share isn't political. It is an example of what it means to pay attention to someone – the essence of "charisma."
In the '90s, my younger brother went to Africa as a member of the Peace Corps. During his assignment, he developed a parasitic infection that attacked his nervous system. They quarantined him. Unfortunately, the local hospital was not equipped to deal with his deteriorating health. He was dying. In despair, my mother sent a letter by FedEx to Hillary Clinton. Two days later, the federal government got my brother out of the hospital and transported him home. He recovered.
Years later, Hillary Clinton was at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena signing copies of Living History. My mother stood in line for a few hours and when they met, she thanked Clinton for saving her son's life. As Clinton smiled broadly, a look of recognition came across her face. She choked up and said his name.
She remembered everyone.
She wanted to know everything about his recovery. Time stopped, and for a few moments, my mother was the only person in line.
I share this story because some of the world's most successful people have developed a skill that allows them to pay absolute attention to anyone they are having a conversation with. That skill can be learned, but first it is important to understand how valuable it can be to develop it.
Potential clients and customers are far more receptive when you point out their good qualities rather than making a pitch about how wonderful you are. If we shower people with high-quality attention, interest, and fascination, they will almost always want to know more about us.
There is nothing "new age" about this. I was a sales executive in the '80s and sent business development people into the field. They were responsible for calling on human resources professionals, most of them homicidal over the many intrusions our people brought to their routines. Most salespeople tried to get business by being the most persistent and having the most winning personality – tiring work for everyone involved.
Xerox had just published the findings of a costly reengineering of their sales organization. The company was dealing with fierce new competition and making pitches wasn't working. The idea that we go about fifteen seconds before we go back to thinking about ourselves was embedded in the report.
I started training people to stop pitching the same story our competitors were pitching. I trained them to ask great questions, to pay attention, to be absolutely respectful of prospects' and clients' time, and to never ever make a presentation until we knew what the client needed. We found it a little immoral to take up someone's time unless we were there to help find a better way.
Our sales figures soared – and perhaps even more importantly, so did our clients' loyalty.
I'm always excited to show business professionals how to do this in a skilled, highly thought-out, and personalized way. When we become gifted at finding out what people and organizations need, when we are masters at finding solutions, then we are always good news.
If you want to increase your results with social networking, stop sending out generic notes. Don't make the approach about you, make it about them!
First impressions really do matter. Most of us aren't really that interested in volume. We want results.
David Harder is the founder of Inspired Work.