5 Paradoxical Habits of Truly Charismatic People

A lot of charismatic tips can seem trite and overdone. Like: touch frequently, lower your vocal tonality, maintain rock solid eye contact, cut filler words, exude ebullient energy.

All of those things are true.  You’ve just heard them before.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned that have contradicted conventional wisdom and even the advice of some of my heroes (Dale Carnegie, I’m looking at you).  They seem paradoxical, but actually contribute to a person being more charismatic.

How to be charismatic: Not diffusing tension earns respect

I have a buddy, Tom, who was at a meeting with the president of his company.  The president is worth literally a hundred million dollars and has direct firing power of every employee.  After a disagreement, the president made this crack at my buddy:

“Don’t be a pussy Tom!”

Tom didn’t want to lose his job.  So you might think the right way to handle this would be to feign a laugh.  Play it safe.  After all one of the most common pieces of advice I give is “smile more.”  Just about everyone I have ever worked with would improve the impression they made by smiling more.

But this is not to be confused for “smile always.”  In fact there are times that it is critical that you NOT smile.  This was one of them.

So Tom looked straight back at David.  He said in a slow, measured tone, ”David, don’t ever call me a pussy again.”  Everyone paused.  Silence hung in the air.  Tom just held his stare.  He did not smile.

David broke the silence: “Okay, I’m sorry.  It won’t happen again.”

And that was it.  Tom didn’t get fired.  Everyone in the office respected him more.  And he never got called a pussy again.

So if you’re in a conversation and someone cracks a joke you find racist.  Don’t laugh.  Or if someone starts making fun at your expense and you think they’ve crossed a line.  Don’t smile though it.

This doesn’t mean be a humorless stick in the mud.  It’s good to laugh at yourself.  But in cases where people are acting like jerks, charismatic people do not reward them with a smile of approval.  No matter what their status or rank.

Telling people you disagree with their worldview can make them like you more

When I first got to Brazil, I found myself at this swanky party in the Copacabana Palace.  Some new friends had gotten me on the list, so I put on my best (only) button down and

Before long I spotted a beautiful Brazilian girl and struck up conversation with her.  After a few sentences, she detected an accent and asked where I was from.  I told her I was from the US and she was shocked.

“Wow, you speak excellent Portuguese!  You must be a really intelligent guy.  Not many people here are worldly.”

Now I was definitely tempted to milk that complement.  To play into her stereotype and tell her, yes, I am a worldly globetrotting, language genius.  Instead I gave her my honest take:

“I really appreciate that.  But the truth is my portuguese is only as good as it is because I practiced Spanish for several years.  So I’m not some language savant.  And beyond that, I actually don’t think intelligence is the most important thing.  Sure it’s cool when people can pick up a language quickly, but for me, t the most important trait I look for in other people is always how much fun I have with them.  I’d take that over “intelligence” any day.”

“But fun is so shallow.  I’d rather be with a guy that was worldly and intelligent”

“I’d take both.  But what draws me to someone is not their IQ, but how much I enjoy their company.”

We ended that topic of conversation by agreeing to disagree.  But something interesting happened.  She wound up liking me MORE than when she just thought I was smart.  By disagreeing with her and sticking to my guns, I earned her respect which was infinitely more attractive.  

Highlighting the areas people outperform you makes them value your opinion more

A huge rookie mistake people make is thinking they have to be the top dog in every interaction.  So while they may give others compliments, they’re always careful to make sure no one surpasses their status.

So if they tell someone they are really smart, they’re ready to prove their own intelligence in the next story.  They only compliment others on they style when they are dressed to the 9’s.  And they give no compliments in areas they don’t feel superior.

The most charismatic people are completely comfortable elevating others far above themselves.  In fact, they take every genuine opportunity to do so.  They publicly call out people for being smarter, harder working, and more successful.

Not only do the people they compliment appreciate the praise.  Everyone in the room realizes the complimenter is non-needy.  They don’t need to be proven cool.  They are beyond cool.  Take this with a huge grain of salt because, yes, highlighting other people strengths can make them value your opinion…

… but you MUST earn respect before following Dale Carnegie’s advice to “be interesting by being interested”

I’ll never forget the most impactful compliment I ever got.  I was sitting in a dorm room during a trip to England.  I had met my buddies who were studying abroad there.  And a friend of a friend I’d met two days before said this:

“You’re a philosophy major?  That’s so cool man.  Are you going to be a writer?”

That was it.  Most memorable compliment of my life.  Simple.  Not even very specific.

But 7 years later I remember the way it made me feel.  The way I glowed.  And it wasn’t because the compliment was so impressive (clearly it was rather plain).  It was because I respected the guy who said it.

You see, prior to giving me that compliment, Dustin had spent the previous half day being the coolest dude I’d ever met.  I’d watched him charm waitstaff, dorm reception, and every friend he’d been introduced to.  He was a ball of positive energy and I respected his opinion immensely.

So when he complimented me it meant the world.

I’ve received that same compliment from other people upon meeting them.  I’ve had people ask me in depth questions about my philosophy background and my writing.  And while I appreciate the attention, I don’t walk away feeling special  Why?

Because before someone has earned your respect, it is impossible for them to give you a compliment that really sticks.  Yet so many people try to ingratiate themselves immediately.  So many books recommend compliments as icebreakers.  Dale Carnegie recommends being “interested in other people” without any further caveat.

I’m not against compliments early in conversation or being interested in other people.  But it is worth noting that the most charismatic thing you can do is build up respect and THEN turn the focus onto someone else.  That’s when your compliments and attention will have the most charismatic impact.

Don’t hesitate to reveal weaknesses

“In order to be successful, one must project an image of success at all times” – Buddy Kane

Buddy Kane from American Beauty is a narcissistic jerk.  And his advice on success is complete garbage.

But we hear it again and again.  CEO’s are told not to let on when things are going bad.  The advice to people in normal conversations is not to let on when you are lost in conversation or nervous before a speech.  “Fake is until you make it,”  they’re told.

“Fake it til you make it” works fine.  But what also works fine is feeling lost or nervous and being at peace with that.

So you can enter a conversation saying, “So….I don’t know anyone in this room.  Can I hang with you guys?”  You can start a speech, saying, “This is the most people I’ve ever spoken to.  I just got done hyperventilating backstage and now I’m ready to go.”  You can tell people with whom you’re networking that your company is having trouble acquiring users.

When you offer information that isn’t in your immediate interest, you instantly build trust.  Anything you say after that will hold more weight.  Paradoxically, you’ve displayed strength in having the courage to reveal a flaw.


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28 Responses to “5 Paradoxical Habits of Truly Charismatic People”

  • This is Charlie, I assume? I’ve just browsed through about 4-5 of the past articles of this site, and I wanted to let you know, sir, that you have earned my respect and admiration. Your attitudes towards life, relationships, and charisma are inspiring and refreshing. Keep on living and learning so that people may continue to benefit from your take on the world.

  • Fantastic article, except on one key point where you’re dead wrong.

    If a beautiful woman approaches you, and she tells you how intelligent and worldly you are, you thank her, make a self deprecating joke, and point out how beautiful and observant she is while looking her straight in the eye. Don’t flinch on eye contact, women can smell fear. Use words like “stunning.” From there, you use need to use a dramatic hook, to give her a reason to continue the conversation.

    You never want to use a first impression to attempt to change someone’s worldview unless you’re a keynote speaker.

    Generally, the first impression is the time when the other person is going to stick to their guns the most, and look at you unfavorably. If you have to agree to disagree with someone after five minutes of knowing them, you’ve accomplished net nothing.

    • Tin Samuel,

      In my experience as a beautiful woman 😉 I have found it unappealing when a man immediately compliments me on my looks in such a grandiose way. It feels prepared, as if the compliment were manufactured and waiting for any woman.
      I would be particularly displeased to recieve a compliment on my looks after paying someone a compliment on their intelligence. I believe that a compliment reflects the values of the giver, rather than the receiver, as it reflects their mindset. So complimenting someone on their looks after they have told you they value intelligence…its a little counterintuitive.
      That being said, if looks are what you value (no judgment here, I’m just continuing on the same line of thought), it would be appropriate to return a compliment in that manner. However, that would require a rejection of someone’s world view, as you are countering their values with your own.
      As for the idea that women can smell fear…we can. *Deadpan stare* Kidding! Sometimes men are nervous when approaching women, but that’s ok. When a man is nervous as he approaches me, my thought is that he either lacks self confidence in general or he is temporarily lacking confidence because he doesn’t know what to expect from me. If he calms after he realizes that I’m not going to bite, I can just brush of the temporary lack of confidence. If he continues to show a lack of confidence, it makes me wonder where he feels he is lacking. Therein lies the rub (but that is the topic for another discussion). Either way, the encounter usually ends rather pleasantly, often comically, once I let them know I am married. Not so pleasantly if they try to overlook that important factor.


      I have really enjoyed your Charisma Breakdowns on YouTube! I love to analyze people and social behavior. It feels like putting together a puzzle, but backwards. You see the whole picture, then take it apart and scrutinize every piece.
      Watching your breakdowns has been wholey satisfying, as I have never been able to put into words what you have, and I have overlooked very many things you point out in your videos. They have enabled me to widen my perspective, and have also been very helpful for me personally. I’m looking forward to more!

      • I’m a Male. What you just wrote there
        Is very true. But why you feel the need to waste 10 minutes typing that idk. However I’m here wasting my time about telling yo you’re wasting your time. This is why we let things be…😑

  • thanks for the free info I noticed a few things here I screwed up yesterday and was sure he was about to fire me. I revealed that my cash flow was slow and I needed another payment. He was pretty much like business is business an no way! He is however connected squarely into my client base and has other projects and rich friends. It remains to be seen if I earned or lost trust. I have been working on it for 2 months.

  • Great! I’m loving your fresh approach towards the subject, instead of thriving on the (already overpopulated) narcissistic market for behaviour.

  • I’m so glad I subscribed to your email list.This is so worth it! I love the content you post on YouTube as well. I’ve been trying to be more conscious of the way I speak to others after having watched your videos. Though it is very difficult and sometimes I think I come off as trying too hard to be nice.

    Can you maybe do a video on Tom Hiddleston? He’s a very easy going and gentle guy who is also very charismatic.

  • I have actually done the first of these with a very positive result. My chief often makes sexual jokes at the expense of those under him. One time he stroked the back of my neck in an erotic way to get a rise out of me (I was an e-1 he was an e-7). I was sick of his bullish and I turned around looked him straight in the eyes and said very calmly, seriously, and laud enough so everyone could hear, “don’t do that.” Since then (the last three years) he has maintained a professional level of respect for me that NO ONE ELSE under him has.

  • Hi Charlie!

    I love your content and have been applying it actively – I gotta say it works and it works very well.

    I was wondering if you could give you take (if any) on depression and how to deal with it.

    Thank you so much!!

    • Tim, how very brave of you to ask that question. I wish I had a simple answer. Every persons depression is so unique, yet at our core we are almost wired for it. Dealing with my own depression, how I overcame it, is by reading books (Wayne Dyer was my favorite) on how to find happiness, googling the different emotions I experienced, attending courses on meditation and slowly learning to love myself and healing my inner child. It’s a powerful and worthwhile journey I encourage you take. Self discovery has been my biggest reason for living. There is a way to break free of depression! I’m living proof! I wish you a wonderful journey!

  • If you cured the narrative of typos, it would help you be more credible. (Typos indicate much more than slipshod proof checking.)

  • fuck you man this article is so interesting and i dont have time to read it, but you’re such an intriguing writer that I read the whole damn thing! ~ ok, now back to packing — good stuff bro

  • Hey Charlie, what does your website run on? It looks amazing- I’m planning to start a similar style of website on a different topic, and wanted to know how you made yours look so good on mobile!

    • Thanks! It’s a WP site on a custom theme. We have some issues with SEO because we built it custom though, so I wouldn’t recommend it – maybe just use it as a template for a designer.

      The mobile is easy though – check out WPTouch. Great plugin for making it mobile responsive 🙂

  • I also study philosophy here in Maryland. It has always been interesting to me to see commonly known proverbs and pieces of advice be conflicting with another or just being dead wrong. It’s interesting how they became popular in the first place. Anyway, another bomb article. Great stuff.

  • I love the idea of getting respect before throwing out compliments. But how does one do this in the first interaction with somebody? When I am networking and meeting new people, I find it difficult to gain respect in such a short interaction.

  • Wow! Amazing article. This is what those of us with really strong opinions need. Would love to read this—How can you build charisma and answer the “What do you believe that most people are wrong about?”

  • I really love what you said, especially the first one, I agree that sometimes we have to make a point that we don’t like certain behaviour toward us, this happens a lot to me, and I just try to play cool and shrug it off every time, but eventually it snowball into real anger, anger that should be able to diffuse it when it was first ignited.

  • Thank you. This was a fantastic article. I’m just starting my journey on being able to connect with people more easily, and this was really helpful. I do appreciate how you gave specific examples.

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