Everyone wants to know how to be more influential, but most of us think the kind of charisma we associate with people like Bill Clinton or Oprah Winfrey is just a character trait some lucky people are born with.
Happily, charisma isn’t something you need to be born with – it’s something you can learn. The secret is the ability to project strength and warmth simultaneously. People who project both impress us as knowing what they are doing and having our best interests at heart, so we look to them for leadership and feel comfortable knowing they are in charge. If you understand how to project your own strength and warmth, you will change the way people see you.
Of course, it’s not that simple. Strength and warmth are in direct tension with each other. Most of the things we do to project strength of character – wearing a serious facial expression or flexing our biceps – tend to make us seem less warm. Likewise, most signals of warmth – smiling often, speaking softly, doing people favours – can leave us seeming more submissive than strong.
The first step to overcoming this challenge to is to develop an understanding of the signals you are sending to others so you can strike the right balance. In some situations, a show of strength might be called for, in others more warmth.
To help you, here are simple ways to use body language to master that tricky balancing act:
- STRENGTH: Posture
Good, upright posture projects strength. At an elemental level, taking up more physical space with your body by standing tall sends a nonverbal message that’s not so different from having a big car or a big house: Look at me. I am important. A powerful posture also creates greater feelings of confidence – a bit like dressing up more than usual to make yourself feel good.
- WARMTH: The Head Tilt
Tilting your head slightly to the side projects more warmth than keeping it straight up and down. We associate this position with warmth because it literally exposes the side of your neck to someone who could potentially harm you, thereby sending the message that you are not a threat.
- STRENGTH: The Way You Walk
A common way to project strength with stride is by having a ‘spring’ in your step. By bouncing up and down on the balls of your feet as you walk, you can gain an inch or more of extra height at the highest point in your stride. As long as it’s not too bouncy and uncontrolled, it conveys strength, in the form of jaunty confidence.
- WARMTH: Eye Contact
Eye contact is a crucial way to convey visual warmth. Imagine a first date over dinner in a restaurant. We expect lingering gazes when it’s going well and we know something is not quite right when a date spends more time looking at the food than at us. Even beyond romantic attraction, eye contact is essential to warmth, whether you’re wooing people to your side or establishing mutual understanding. There’s a reason for the old saying about seeing eye-to-eye: it means sharing a common perspective.
- STRENGTH: Gesture
To project strength, move your hands and elbows away from your torso. If you clasp your hands in front of you and keep your elbows pressed to your sides, people will justifiably assume you are either cold or anxious. But be careful: the key to projecting strength with gesture is not to flail around excitedly, but move deliberately, discreetly, gracefully. The aim is to demonstrate complete control of where your body us in space.
- WARMTH: Mirroring
Projecting warmth, showing that you care about how someone feels, means attending and responding to their signals too. ‘Mirroring’ involves offering your conversation partner the same kind of nonverbal cues they are offering you. The best way to do this is to follow the lead of the person you are meeting with a goal of trying to make them comfortable with you.
- STRENGTH AND WARMTH: The Strong Smile
This facial expression is your secret weapon. It is common among top salespeople, captains of industry and notoriously successful daters. To create your strong smile, pair flinty eyes (achieved by flexing the lower eyelids) with a smile around the mouth. Paired with a smile, the strong eyes are often said to have a twinkle in them, or mischievous look to them, projecting both strength and warmth simultaneously.