Arnold Kling  

Olivia Fox Cabane on Charisma

How I Love Education... Unintended Consequences of Int...

She is the author of The Charisma Myth, a self-help book that I am in the middle of reading. Before you buy it (and before you comment on this post), I recommend watching this video, evidently from a talk given at Google (skip the guy doing the intro, which lasts about 1-1/2 minutes).

So far, my favorite tip in the book is to get over your anger over something that someone did to you by mentally composing a detailed letter of apology from that person to you. Have the letter say exactly what you would like to hear. If you want to feel even more relief, type up the letter.

I would summarize the book as follows.

i. People with charisma project presence, power, and warmth.

ii. You can learn to project these qualities using the tools of method acting. Use visualizations and the like to neutralize feelings of insecurity, doubt, anxiety, and hostility. Stimulate in yourself feelings of serenity, confidence, and compassion.

iii. The author offers examples (like the apology letter) of simple tricks for this sort of method acting.

My overall reaction is this:

1. If you project below-average presence, power, and warmth, then I recommend considering some of her ideas.

2. The self-help book I wish people would read is "How to recognize when you are being seduced by charisma and dial down your response." I think that a reader can find some of that information in this book, although it is not presented with that purpose in mind.

3. I am particularly troubled by political charisma. Cabane frequently invokes Bill Clinton as an example. In the comments, please spare us your opinion of Clinton and talk about something else instead. Suffice to say that nearly everyone concedes that he is charismatic, but for some people he epitomizes "fake sincerity."

One problem is that if political success (or success in climbing the executive ladder) requires charisma, and charisma requires learning to tune out signals that come from self-doubt and anxiety....well, you can see where that might lead to unfortunate results. Better that charismatic people try starting new businesses than have them running, say, large financial institutions or government agencies.

COMMENTS (9 to date)
Peter St. Onge writes:

Great point on how the market channels another dangerous trait to pro-social results.

So charisma joins generalized greed, the boldness of career criminals, and Steve Jobs' lousy people skills.

Greg G writes:

Fascinating video. Thank you for that.

Hume writes:

I typically just turn slightly in my chair, look in the mirror and tell myself "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like me."

Becky Hargrove writes:

I especially related to her description how others inspect our command of the environment, and challenge that. Recently (when Elinor Ostrom died), I was feeling a bit low, which translated into Olivia's alpha gorilla example. On the nearby walking trail, two young girls refused to move over and forced me off the trail! If that were not enough, they taunted me even as I continued around the trail. At the time it seemed a bit unbelieveable, but not after watching this wonderful video.

Ken writes:

For visualization and dealing with negative feelings, you might like the stoics.

MingoV writes:

I have such a strong streak of skepticism* that I am immune to charisma. That's often a good thing, but it also means that I have limited success when speaking to people who respond more to charisma than content. Naturally, I agree that it would be preferable for fewer people to become charismatic speakers and for more people to tune out charisma and focus on the content.

... and a love of alliteration

Marcus writes:

I've studied charisma for over ten years and define it as the ability to consistently evoke emotions in others. It's entirely possible to learn to do this from a place of authenticity; whereby you turn up the volume of your communication without trying too hard. Whilst techniques can be learned, a solid belief and mindset are required to build up. I've recently interviewed Olivia and will have the discussion up on my site in the next week or two.

Winton Bates writes:

I am also currently reading the book. My impressions are also mainly positive. At this stage it seems to me to be a good effort to demystify charisma and rescue it from the demogogues.

Thanks, Arnold! Glad to hear you're enjoying it so far. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts when you finish the book.

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