I don't think that working on social and communication skills is work that can ever be considered "complete". Especially for introverted people, like some software engineers, additional work and focus must be given to these "soft skills".
One of the most outstanding books I've read on the subject is "The Charisma Myth". Let me do some expectation management, in case it wasn't obvious, it won't magically make you "charismatic" as soon as you finish it. But it's full of practical tips on how to make great impressions and increase your influence within your social circle. So let's dive into a super quick summary of the book.
- Charisma is not a genetic characteristic, but a learnable skill
- When we meet someone, unconsciously, we assess how much power they have and how much they like us
- Quick tips for getting a charisma boost in a conversation: (1) low intonation of voice at the end of your sentences, (2) do not nod quickly and often, (3) pause for 2 seconds before you speak
If you want to keep 1 thing for how to gain charisma, these are the 3 core elements that all of them must be present in order to be perceived as charismatic. Choose mental states that make body language, words, and behaviors flow together and express the 3 elements of charisma.
- If you are not fully present, the other person in the conversation will likely notice even though you think this won't happen.
- Our brains are wired to be distracted due to the survival skills of our ancestors.
- Use meditation practice to improve your presence/focus skills. In the middle of the conversation, if you feel distracted, focus on your breathing to get back to a focused mode.
In contrast to popular belief, this is not just money and politics. It's the ability to influence people around us. Clues of power are everywhere: appearance, people's reactions, body language, and knowledge.
Whether people will use whatever power they have in others' favor. Assessed through behavior and body language.
- For charisma, body language and non-verbal communication matter the most.
- Almost impossible to "fake". If the internal state is different from what we want to "emit", at some point some microexpression will surface.
- The secret is to enter into a mental state that will produce charismatic body language and behaviors organically. The internal mental state is critical.
Obstacles to charismatic mental states
- Mental or physical discomforts affect how others perceive you (e.g. if you are uncomfortable in your clothes, the discomfort will become obvious - but not necessarily the reason for the discomfort -> others might think that you are not enjoying their company).
- Prepare to remove/limit any physical discomfort beforehand. If it arises, act to alleviate it - do not ignore it.
- Mental discomfort is unavoidable (mental negativity, self-doubt, etc). The challenge is how to react to this discomfort.
Mental discomfort remedies
- De-stigmatize (i.e. everyone on earth has felt discomfort - it's unavoidable)
- Neutralize negativity
- Re-write reality (e.g. a driver has insulted you while driving - imagine they are having a difficult time).
Getting into a charismatic mental state
- Visualization exercise: (1) close your eyes, (2) Remember a time you felt absolutely triumphant: Use all senses (listen, feel, see), (3) Recall into the present.
- Physical exercise: Take an open posture (shoulders back, swing in arms, chest exposed) to get into a confidence zone. As unnatural as this may feel, this works because your mind wants to be consistent with your body.
People judge (economic level, education, level of success, etc) within a few seconds of meeting someone - before even talking to each other.
- Clothing is essential. The best clothing depends on the environment (not the same choice for a luxury restaurant, or a tech startup). Look at the range of choices within that environment, and choose the upper end.
- Keep the spotlight on the other person as long as possible. People in general love to talk about themselves. Ask open-ended questions, and be curious about them (e.g. "What brought you out here tonight?", "How are you connected to this event?"). Remember, the one asking the questions, has control of the conversation, not the other way around.
- People will be left with whatever emotions your conversation generates. Ask questions that will generate positive emotions, not negative ones.
Speaking and listening
- Listening is crucial. Listen actively (do not just wait your turn to speak). When someone finishes talking, do not respond immediately: let your facial expression react showing you are absorbing/thinking what they said, then after 2 seconds have passed, reply.
- Taking a compliment: do not downplay it (e.g. "no problem", "it was nothing"), they will feel foolish and associate the feeling with you. Instead: (1) Absorb (wait 2 seconds in silence), (2) show your appreciation with a facial expression, (3) thank them verbally.
- When speaking, for vocal power: use a slow and measured tempo, insert pauses between sentences, and drop the intonation of voice at the end. For vocal warmth: smile.
Imitating your co-speaker body language is an easy way to establish unconscious rapport: mirror the way they hold their head, how place their feet, and shift their weight.
- Charisma cannot be accomplished without great eye contact: give an impression of thoughtfulness, wisdom, and intelligence.
- Exercise: (1) Close your eyes and think of something that would induce warm feelings (e.g. time with a friend). Open your eyes, that is what the warm eye looks like, (2) Close your eyes and think of an exciting time (e.g. receiving a triumph, an award). Open your eyes, that's what a confident eye looks like.
Posture for power
- Sit sideways on chairs. Drape arms over the back. Use two chairs by placing arms across the back of an adjacent chair.
- Big gorilla (take up space): When walking in a crowded area, be like a "gorilla" walking down the street: Take up as much space as you can (inflate chest, walk with a slight swing in your arms).
- Breathing is critical: slow, relaxed, deep breaths.
- Composed people exhibit stillness. They are more contained. They're not as worried about what their counterpart is thinking
Postures to avoid
- Can you imagine James Bond fidgeting, tugging at his clothing, putting his hands in his pockets? These gestures are emitting weakness and low status.
- No excessive or rapid nodding. Nodding a few times for emphasizing something is fine.
- No excessive verbal reassurance: "Uh-huh" or "Oh, I agree"
- No Restlessness or fidgeting
Hopefully, you enjoyed this super-short summary of the book. If it piqued your interest, go and read the full book :)